Fast Food Will Be Reimagined After the Coronavirus Pandemic

The fast food industry has not been as hurt during the COVID-19 pandemic as we initially thought it would, and this type of business model might continue to exist even after the pandemic is over. It might not be entirely a bad thing, either.


UnSplash / Eduardo Soares

A McDonald’s Drive Thru might be the new way to enjoy fast food even after the Coronavirus pandemic is over. The new business model set up during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be cheaper and profitable, so it would not be entirely surprising if this business model continues after the pandemic is over.

Fast food and dining during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic have been vastly different from what we were used to before our lengthy stays at home. For many of us, ordering food through various third party sites like UberEats, Doordash and drive-thrus is the new normal, and truth be told, it tends to be more convenient, especially at a time where spending too much time inside restaurants can be dangerous. 

I always assumed that the food industry, in general, was not doing too well during a time like this. After all, fewer people are going out to get food, and sadly, many local businesses have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to lack of business. 

This led me to believe that the food industry had suffered horribly until I watched an informative video on this topic created by internet sensation Matthew Patrick (adoringly nicknamed MatPat by the internet) through one of his three channels, Food Theory. In a video titled, “Food Theory: Taco Bell Is Killing Amazon!”, MatPat discussed how the food industry had completely changed — this new model of the drive-through and the convenience of ordering food through third party apps are actually beneficial, and I could not help but agree with what he was saying.  

He mentions that restaurants have large expenses attached to them and why it is beneficial for fast food restaurants to have their patrons in and out of the establishment as soon as possible. It is costly for restaurants to have workers cleaning the establishment and to lease the building itself monthly, along with providing good furniture and seating areas. 

When looking at a McDonald’s FAQ for franchisees (people who run a McDonald’s franchise), it is easy to notice how expensive it truly is to run a fast-food restaurant. A McDonald’s, a franchisee will pay around $1,314,500 to $2,306,500, in order to create a McDonald’s location fully fitted with furniture, utilities, and kid-friendly sections. 

Furthermore, they have to pay nearly 10.7% of their income on leasing the building, on top of maintaining an expendable $500,000 worth of liquid assets ready to be plunged into the franchisee’s restaurant at all times. Overall, it is extremely expensive to pay for a unit, and this cost increases when wages for workers at the franchise are thrown into the mix. 

However, with a drive-thru-only building, a lot of these expenses are removed. A large dine-in area with furniture is no longer needed. All utilities except a kitchen and a few other tools are unnecessary, and leasing will not cost as much, because the dine-in area no longer exists for customers. Moreover, patrons are happy with drive-thru. A survey conducted by QSR magazine asked, “I would order from fast-casual restaurants more frequently if more of them had drive-thrus,” and 57% of respondents agreed or completely agreed. 

MatPat also discusses the prospect of a ghost kitchen being implemented within a drive-thru. A ghost kitchen is a kitchen that is not being utilized to its proper capacity, only accepting orders from other restaurants or fast-food chains that pick up the food through third party delivery apps such as Uber Eats. 

For example, a small restaurant chain may not be busy the entire day and, rather, just a set time within a day. The rest of the hours see very little business, so the kitchen can become a ghost kitchen that produces food for McDonald’s. The generally non-operating staff can now work on McDonald’s food requested through UberEats. 

The ghost kitchen gets a set portion of the payment and ultimately racks up revenue even during non-rush hours. Drive-thru buildings have a large potential to become ghost kitchens, which can end up being very profitable, especially as food delivery rates boom, because the food you ordered no longer needs to be sourced in one location. 

There is still another side to this argument, belonging to those who enjoy dining in and eating at local restaurants. People often go to restaurants to eat with friends and to engage in social gatherings. Dining-in has been the norm for a long while, and not everyone wants to pick food up from drive-thru alone. “Using third-party sites are reliable, but I don’t think anything can beat the experience of eating indoors with fresh food straight out the kitchen,” said Suhana Syeda ’23. I understand and agree with the sentiment, as eating in a restaurant as social gatherings is a unique feeling, which cannot be replicated by the fast-food ordering experience. 

People have choices, and choosing where to eat is one of those freedoms. As we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic in the next few years, the fast-food industry will continue to pave new paths, and people will slowly adjust to getting fast food through non-dine-in options. That is not to say that dine-in will no longer be an option, but there will be far fewer dine-in fast food options in the near future. 

The dine-in experience will most likely then start pointing toward local businesses and nearby restaurants, which will be the hub for social gatherings, while fast-food drive-thru will be for convenience. At that point, we will realize it is not so bad, and we will remember the catalyst of COVID-19 that completely changed fast food and everything about daily life as we knew it.

As we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic in the next few years, the fast-food industry will continue to pave new paths, and people will slowly adjust to getting fast food through non-dine-in options. That is not to say that dine-in will no longer be an option, but there will be far fewer dine-in fast food options in the near future.