What the QSR industry is going to need to survive…

Yesterday I said I was going to be focusing on what I thought restaurants are going to be needing to survive the transition into a new COVID-19 world. I’m dividing my analysis into two segments of the industry. I’ll talk about the full service dining restaurants tomorrow. Today I’m focusing on the quick service restaurant segment.

For those who are not knowledgeable about restaurant terminology quick service restaurants, or QSR are basically your fast food outlets. Typically highly franchised and branded. Although there is much room for independent start ups if you have the right product to sell.

In the COVID-19 world, the secret to success is going to be focused on customer safety. Customers will need to feel that upon walking into your establishment they are as safe and secure as possible from contracting the coronavirus. Cleanliness will be the key. Ensuring that inspection reports are highly visible will be a good way to do this. However, the biggest challenge will be to appear clean at all times. As someone who has worked in the fast-casual QSR industry, I can assure you its difficult to do with a full staff on during a rush.

Which brings me to my next point. Reduction of your staff. At a stores peak hours of operation, you could expect a fully staffed QSR restaurant to have 15 to 20 staff on the clock. Think of a McDonald’s or a Tim Hortons. The key will be to balance reducing the number of people on the floor at any given time, but maintaining the speed of service that is expected of the brand. The secret weapon here will be technology.

Already prominent QSR outlets have some form of online ordering. Usually an app that allows you to place an order and pick it up through drive through or curbside. McDonald’s has been the leader in this, as their stores have introduced touchscreen kiosks and a mobile app to facilitate ordering. They’ve reduced their front counter staff down to one terminal. I can’t see it taking much longer to fully remove that last remaining terminal and convert entirely to app based purchases.

If QSR restaurants are able to entice their customers to switch their habits to an app based experience, it will allow restaurants to reduce risk for their clientele. In the back of house, restaurants may have to invest in reorganizing their kitchens into a more social distanced process. Instead of organized into tightly packed teams to assemble food, a more dispersed assembly procedure will take place. As well, a reduction in numbers for people in the kitchen and preparation stations to cut down on the risk of transmission.

The good news is that much of what I’ve described has been a trend line the QSR industry has already been on. It’s something that many franchise brands have already been experimenting with or incorporating into their operations. For the independent QSR operation who might not have the capital to invest in the development of a mobile app, there are options. Touchbistro is one such company that provides online ordering and payment for smaller operations to benefit from. It is only a matter of ramping up the changes to encourage adoption by customers. The race will be on to see who can accomplish this quickly and with as little pain as possible to take the lead in this competitive industry.


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