Growth in the quick service restaurant sector had been showing absolutely no signs of slowing down in the run-up to the pandemic and, once the UK returns to some form of normality and restrictions on people’s lives have been lifted again, it is firmly expected to be among the first to bounce back due to the twin factors of price and convenience.
The QSR channel was predicted to attract 41 million more visits in 2020, taking the market to nearly six billion visits annually and representing more than 53% of the entire British foodservice industry in visit terms.
Such figures won’t be realised this year now — especially when you consider that some of the biggest chains have still got stores closed in places such as railway stations — but the sector remains well-placed given the context of the wider market.
Foodservice analyst, Simon Stenning, notes that fast food is likely to steal share from service-led restaurants, due to its ability to provide takeaway, delivery and drive-thru services, as well as delivering intrinsic value.
He forecasts that QSR will achieve 77% of normal revenues for the rest of 2020, whereas service-led restaurants will achieve only 48%.
QSRs have been quick to expand into delivery, with major investments in apps and ordering kiosks creating a direct link between customer and kitchen.
The market’s recovery will almost certainly be technology-driven as fast food operators discover that the full-scale implementation of digital order channels can have positive benefits for kitchen efficiency.
And as delivery sales continue to grow at a rapid pace, fast food operators are reportedly investing more time evaluating equipment that can support the transportation of food in a bid to ensure the quality of it doesn’t deteriorate in the time between leaving the kitchen and reaching the customer.
For many operators, the past few months have involved a review of existing kitchen set-ups and an assessment of how these meet the requirements of a Covid-secure world.
Healthy fast food chain Leon has reduced the number of team members working in its kitchens to ensure they have sufficient space between them during shifts.
Its menu has also been adapted so that its most popular items can be safely prepared by fewer team members in its kitchens. Additionally, its teams have been retrained in the importance of safety and hygiene.
McDonald’s UK, meanwhile, commissioned industry standards and certification specialist NSF to independently validate all of its Covid-19 processes and procedures.
Working with the on-site and remote teams to ensure the processes met government and public health guidance, NSF experts reviewed all McDonald’s Covid-19 procedures and developed new training materials that were rolled out to employees returning to work.
It also visited a sample of restaurants and drive-thrus to provide advice on the ground as new processes were being tested and developed. Additional visits have subsequently taken place to ensure kitchen teams are maintaining the new standards that have been introduced to the business.
“Customers can be reassured that McDonald’s processes have been independently validated and their top priority is the safety and well-being of their people and customers. McDonald’s has enhanced its high standards of cleanliness and introduced a number of additional measures and changes to their restaurants,” said Rob Chester, managing director of NSF International’s food operations.
Outside of that, the fast food giant continues to explore how its store design might look in the future, with the recent opening of a new global flagship in the US offering a glimpse of what could be achieved.
The “first-of-its-kind” site in Orlando, Florida generates all its own power to run its entire kitchen and restaurant operation from renewable energy.
The construction of the restaurant means it can create enough renewable energy on site to cover 100% of its energy needs on a net annual basis. McDonald’s will also use the flagship as a learning hub to test solutions for reducing energy and water use in future.
Elsewhere, healthy fast food brand Itsu has unveiled its new ‘Store of the Future’ concept, which utilises robot technology to dynamically change its food preparation processes.
Significant changes to its on-site kitchens through the use of robotic equipment are expected to save production time, reduce food wastage and speed up the time it can serve hot food. Itsu developed the store design in secret during lockdown, with a view to preparing for how foodservice will change following Covid-19.
The first site with the new template has opened in London’s Great Portland Street, but more locations are due to follow in the UK.
Traditionally, sushi chefs mould nigiri by hand, but itsu’s advanced robot technology removes unnecessary handling, decreases food wastage and increases speed time for production, as one Nigiri robot can make 4,800 pieces in an hour.
Founder Julian Metcalfe said: “l’ll put in whatever it takes to continue Itsu’s success despite the obstacles posed by Covid.
Little expense has been spared on this store of the future — it’s top-class stuff which would not look out of place in Kyoto.
“It’s far more than a business, it’s an absolute crusade. Not since the 50s has fast food caught up with changing tastes and nutrition needs. It’s a start. We will lead and many will follow.”
Fast food operators are renowned for their expertise in creating highly efficient kitchen spaces capable of high volume production — those embracing digital technology are set to take this to even higher levels in the future.