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QSR Design Must Meet Evolving Customer Expectations

It’s 2022, and three different customers want to order lunch from their favorite quick-serve restaurant. All three decide to use the QSR’s app.

Customer one is in a hurry. He also still wears a mask because, well, he remembers 2020 and thinks you can never be too careful with your health. He wants to pick up his order and go quickly, with no contact.

Customer two makes her order, but then an online business meeting she was rushing to is canceled. She doesn’t want to wait for her food, but she also thinks sitting outside and enjoying a nice day is now in order.

Customer three is with his children and he’s frazzled. He wants to pick up his order quickly and then eat in his car before driving his kids to three different events.

Heck, you could throw in a fourth customer. She walks in old school, bypasses a digital kiosk, goes to the counter and orders a chicken sandwich, fries and a drink — yes, make it a meal deal! — and then sits down in the restaurant to eat before walking back to her store across the street.

These are four distinct customer journeys that QSRs need to accommodate, now and in the future. The first three didn’t really exist last year and didn’t become popular until COVID-19 made expedited app development critical.

Customer expectations have evolved, quickly and permanently. QSRs — zeroed in on building brand loyalty — will incorporate this evolution into their restaurant strategy, design and digital adoptions.

Great QSR design, from concept development to implementation to ongoing maintenance, needs to emphasize creating customer-centric solutions and nurturing value without ever losing sight of creating ROI.

There are five parts to the process based on the enduring “new” normal for QSR environments: 1. Safety; 2. Convenience; 3. Flexibility; 4. Communication; 5. Optimized associate conditions.


First and foremost is ensuring the best possible customer and associate safety. This is non-negotiable during the pandemic, and it’s clear that it will continue to some extent into the foreseeable future. 

Cambridge Retail Advisors’ survey of U.S. retail and restaurant executives found that 83 percent believed “retail and dining will be changed forever” due to the pandemic.

The need for contactless options that surged in 2020 will endure, necessarily supported by design, technology, wayfaring and associate training.


A pandemic is one way to get customers to embrace new technology. Previously reluctant customers who started using QSR apps in order to facilitate contactless interactions now realize how easy, convenient and intuitive they are, at least when done right.

It’s not just apps. During COVID-19, customers prioritize convenience and health and safety over brand loyalty, and that accelerated the long-discussed but slowly adopted QSR digital transformation. Customers learned to love curbside delivery, pick-up lockers or customized drive-through lanes for app users.

Most customers who have experienced this reduced friction along the path to purchase won’t revert to their old ways in the future. In fact, according to a study by Econsultancy and Marketing Week, 96 percent of enterprise leaders believe the lockdown has increased the priority of digital transformation for the long term.

So, what’s next? Predictive selling both inside and outside the restaurant, QSR codes that facilitate ordering and minimize contact, curated loyalty programs and significantly upgraded drive-through lanes will move from “QSR of the future” to standards of today.


This is old school and new school. Interior and exterior signage still needs to provide information, promote specials and new offerings and look good. Internal and external menu boards must be designed for ease of use and guiding purchasing decisions that increase price per check.

Customers need to easily understand procedures and where to go, however they are engaging with your restaurant. QSRs need clear communication from on-site signage, particularly at peak hours, to facilitate customers who are eating at the restaurant and those picking up to-go orders via the app, minimizing confusion. This could be particularly challenging to standardize over a diversity of restaurant footprints.

Technology also introduces potential new contact points with customers. App and loyalty program users could opt-in for updates on specials or customized coupons. When they pull up to a digital menu board, they might see customized displays based on past purchase or even the weather (“It's hot… how about some ice cream or a milkshake?”).


We described four different types of customers, but most customers don’t follow one path each time they eat. Making sure customers can easily employ their preferred mode of engagement per visit builds loyalty, as you serve them efficiently when they’re in a rush and also provide a good environment when they decide to sit and chill.

A customer with a to-go order might opt to sit down and eat if an area appears inviting (and socially distant). Meanwhile, a customer who is new to the app needs a sense that she’s not making a mistake as she moves through the experience. The dad outside eating with his kids might appreciate a texted coupon offering 2-for-1 desserts.

It’s difficult to be all things to all customers every time, but that should be the aspiration.

Optimized associate environment:

While creating the ideal customer experience is always the prime directive, it can’t be done with mediocre associate training, morale and expertise.

For one, it’s essential that associates feel you are making their health a priority. Such efforts, by the way, will be noticed and appreciated by customers. Once associates feel safe, they need to be entirely immersed in their roles for the various customer journeys at your restaurant.

Just as there will be a new normal for customers, so will there be new duties for associates. They no longer will only take orders at the cash register or from behind a drive-through speaker. They also will be using new technology, receiving rapid-fire orders from apps, managing to-go orders for pick-up and taking orders with tablets at upgraded drive-through lanes.

They need to be trained to use the new technology and to meet new customer expectations. New contingencies will need to be planned for, such as irritated customers seeking a contactless transaction who believe they’ve not been provided their correct order.

Great design and updated technology are just the start. Such efforts fail if poor implementation and maintenance don’t lead to ROI. Further, QSR refreshes are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Franchises vary significantly in terms of region, footprints and wants and needs.

What is clear and unchanging is the need to understand an evolving customer amid uncertain times and to meet them where they are with the best possible customer experience.

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