An empty restaurant table on a commercial boulevard.


There’s no doubt that restaurants (and retail stores) have been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. While most of us in commercial real estate have been able to safely work from home, restaurants rely on foot traffic for their business. Those that haven’t closed outright are working their hardest with skeleton crews to provide carryout and delivery orders. Here at PlanForce, we’ve been thinking about how Minneapolis restaurant architecture might change in response to the situation.

More Convenient Carryout and Delivery

When this is all over, we’re all going to be very eager to go out dining again with friends. For many people, however, the convenience of ordering from restaurants — combined with the wariness of crowds — is here to stay. Successful restaurants will plan for carryout and delivery to be a significant part of the restaurant’s business, including, for example, more pre-packaged meals. Likewise, great restaurant design will account for this business change.

What does that look like? We think more restaurants will start building entrance vestibules closer to the kitchen, specifically for takeout and delivery. These dedicated entrances will give customers easy access to their orders, without having to tramp through the main dining room. They will also help keep food warmer, as it can stay in the kitchen until the customer or driver arrives.

Cleaner Spaces and Surfaces

Obviously, cleanliness is on the top of everyone’s minds right now — and it’s likely to stay there for a while. As our colleague Weld Ransom noted in his recent post on WELL design principles, there’s a lot that designers can do to make a space healthier. In restaurant design, a few things are top of mind.

First, we’re likely to see an increased use of anti-microbial surface materials. Especially useful for counters and cooking surfaces, these materials can help reduce the spread of germs. We also expect to see commercial buildings of all types upgrade their HVAC systems to increase air filtration. Reducing contaminants in the air will keep us all healthier, with or without a runaway pandemic.

Another way that restaurants can redesign their spaces to increase cleanliness is to reduce or eliminate self-serve drink and condiment stations. Common in quick-serve restaurants (QSRs), these stations get used hundreds of times each day. Even though they are technically safe, it’s likely that customers will be wary of them for the foreseeable future. The upside for restaurants is that they will likely save money on drinks and condiments while helping diners feel safer. In their place, restaurants could install hand sanitizer stations to really bring the point home.

Increased Social Distancing

Two months ago, the term social distancing would have likely only been used for hermits living in the woods. Now, we’re all in on the game — and hopefully staying connected through video conferencing. When restaurants are allowed to open to the public again, diners will come back — but they may still want to keep a safe distance from strangers. Restaurants will want to redesign their spaces to better accommodate this new preference, while keeping everything running smoothly.

For QSRs, we are likely to see counters getting wider to put more space between diners and staff. In addition, we predict that many fast food restaurants will install clear plexi walls into their counters. Like salad bar sneeze guards, these can help reduce the spread of germs between customers and staff. We also predict that restaurants will create clear spacing markers on the floor to spread out ordering queues. (Many retail and grocery stores are already doing this for shoppers waiting to get in.)

In the dining room, we expect to see more and higher walls between tables and booths. To further increase space between diners, restaurants might spread tables out. This would reduce seating capacity, though, so it has pretty big operations implications. If carryout and delivery orders increase enough, however, it may offset any decrease in seating.

At PlanForce, it’s our job to think about how we can make these required modifications while still letting people do the things they love. What other design changes do you think restaurants will see as a result of the current situation? Got some great ideas or want to talk to us more about these? Drop us a note.
Dean Madson, Architect
Dean Madson
Architect + Project Manager

Dean brings more than 35 years of experience in architecture to his work with PlanForce Group. Across his expansive career of designing retail buildings and restaurants, he has also designed more than one hundred separate Taco Bell locations. He earned his architecture degree from North Dakota State University.

Ryan Schroeder, AIA
Ryan Schroeder, AIA
Architect + President

Ryan has more than 18 years of professional experience and is president of PlanForce. He holds degrees in architecture and environmental science from North Dakota State University, as well as certifications from NCARB and AIA.

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