5 Design Trends Every Restaurant Must Incorporate

5 Design Trends Every Restaurant Must Incorporate

As Chief Development Officer at Taco Bell, I changed the way our restaurants showed up in the world – and I talked a lot about why.  The restaurant exists for the consumer to enjoy, and changing tastes mean changing restaurants.  These five trends are critical to include if you are designing a new restaurant today.

1) Urbanization

Millennials are becoming more urban in their living preferences.  Even for those who are not able to live in dense urban centers, their expectation is to live in a more “urban-like” environment.  Walkability scores are important, as are human-scale (as opposed to car-scale) settings.  People want to be able to sit out on patios, at least surrounded by the illusion of something other than a parking lot.  People are looking for greater choice, such as the limitless possibilities of a big city.

At Taco Bell, we literally built restaurants in urban cores, but we also made our suburban restaurants more “urban-like.”  We pushed restaurants up to the street, erasing the sea of parking that had become standard in the industry.  We changed the scale of the building. We added patios and bike parking.

Restaurant delivery helps to push suburban environments to more “urban-like.”  Delivery started in the densest urban cores – places like Manhattan or San Francisco.  Before apps made it easy, calling down to the local market or Chinese restaurant was natural to natives of these places.  Restaurant delivery creates urban illusions by enabling suburbanites to “walk” to an outdoor dinner, even if that dinner is in their own backyard.  Restaurant delivery also creates more perceived options via the online catalog of local choices. Kitchen United’s virtual restaurants will deliver even greater choice to the consumer by making it cheaper and easier for a restaurant to locate near populations who value delivery.

2) Localization

Millennials are uninterested in the sea of same.  They want to try new things, support local businesses, and see fresh & local product on menus.  Trust for Millennials is related to authenticity. Once a brand becomes cookie-cutter, the mass-production of signage, décor, and food starts to break authenticity down.

Several large retailers are attacking this issue head-on, supporting local selection through Big Data tools analyzing local consumer populations and purchasing habits in their own stores.  Artisanal food production is taking this trend to a new level, creating products that may only be available locally.

Kitchen United considers the local population when selecting new sites.  And then, importantly, when selecting restaurant partners who will serve the community from those locations.  Our goal is to create choice, not just for choice’s sake, but the choices that the community values.

3) Transparency

Millennials want to know what companies are doing. They value transparency in decision-making, operating data, public apologies when things go awry, ingredients, and customer feedback.

In restaurants, it is easiest to signal transparency through literally allowing consumers to see food preparation.  The advent of the chef’s table, the open kitchen, the interactive Chipotle/Subway-style production…all of these are about helping consumers see what’s happening behind the curtain.

It is more difficult to signal transparency with Restaurant Delivery.  One can imagine a series of digital versions – Domino’s Tracker is a great example of this.  Packaging may start listing ingredients, calories, or the name of the person who prepared your meal.

4) Digitization

Millennials, many of whom are digital natives, have come to expect that all things will operate with the ease of the internet. Information should be readily available. Choices should be limitless. Transactions should be frictionless.

Restaurants are wrestling with this trend.  Does digitization mean that the restaurant should have an online presence or app?  Does it mean that the restaurants themselves should have digital interfaces like kiosk ordering, table pay, and order status boards?  Or does it mean that getting a meal should be a digital experience, delivered just like everything else?  Each approach requires a significant investment in both capital and consumer journey.

Kitchen United believes meals will increasingly become digital experiences, delivered to wherever the consumer happens to be.  To enable this digital shift, we’re aiming to help restaurants most efficiently create excellent, food-safe dishes for the delivery environment.

5) Green

Millennials have been raised on the environment.  They don’t question that one ought to recycle.  But recycling is surprisingly difficult for a restaurant.  Few municipalities offer composting to deal with food waste; and most packaging, though recyclable, is coated in food waste.  Few national chains have figured out how to deal with the local variations in law and process to successfully reduce their landfill footprint.

Though recycling is the most visible to a consumer, there is a lot that restaurants can do to be green beyond recycling.  At Taco Bell, we reduced our energy consumption by 40%, mostly through adopting new technologies.  Starbucks works hard to incorporate green building products into its design.  Kitchen United, too, will consider the environment in its choices.


-Meredith Sandland | COO | @meresandland

Featured image by Jaymantri on Pexel.

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