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Wendy's Follows McDonald's in Making a Huge Change

Restaurants are moving to adapt to customers with very different wants and desires.

Should the modern fast food restaurant even have tables or is it all pick-up windows and screens? That is the question that many modern restaurants have to navigate as they move into a model in which they want people to place more mobile orders.

Sometimes the change is as subtle as more ordering screens and a drive-thru lane while, in other cases, it can be a whole restaurant revamp. McDonald's  (MCD)  recently announced plans to modernize over 7,000 restaurants across the U.S. and the UK. 

Instead of the traditional counter and seating areas, these will look more like a room with different sections that customers can order from — a family play area, a grab-and-go zone and a "linger" space where customers order from screens and wait for food to be prepared. 

The counter for ordering in-person is less prominent and mostly used for picking up online orders or asking questions or clarifications.

What Does A Wendy's Global Next Gen Store Look Like?

Not far behind, Wendy's  (WEN)  also announced that a new design standard for its stores.

On Wednesday, the maker of the square burger unveiled what its new "Global Next Gen" restaurant will look like — a pick-up window and parking area specifically for delivery drivers from companies like Uber Eats  (UBER)  and Doordash  (DASH) , shelves and parking spaces for those picking up mobile orders themselves and a galley-style kitchen that runs from the front to the back of the restaurant to maximize "efficiency and oversight for crew across all sales channels."

Other changes include more energy-efficient lighting, and ordering screens placed throughout the store rather than a single location.

But this will be the standard for new Wendy's restaurants being built — the first Global Next Gen restaurant is expected to open in spring 2023 in New Albany, Ohio.

"To accelerate our business and expand our footprint across the globe, we must consistently meet the needs of our customers however they chose to engage with Wendy's, whether that's through a digital platform or in the drive-thru," Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor said in a statement. "Global Next Gen enhances the customer experience across ordering channels and streamlines operations for our crew, all while creating better returns for franchisees."

Fast Food And Tech: What Is The Future?

"Revamp" and "restaurant of the future" are terms that chains frequently throw around to add pizzazz to the updates and improvements that take place naturally throughout a company's evolution — new logos, additional features and updated design.

But in 2022, the industry is also at a crossroads of where it will go as more customers use mobile apps and place orders online. In February, Texas-based chicken wing chain Wingstop  (WING)  launched a 1,300-square-foot restaurant that is designed entirely for picking up orders. The location does not have a seating area and does not accept cash as payment.

While drop-in customers can use the displayed QR codes to order, Wingstop opened the location with the goal of one day having 100% of its orders placed digitally. 

This trend is controversial (some have even called it "soulless") but, for chains that were never known for a particularly special dining experience, such a format allows for more streamlined pickup and food preparation.

"Over the last 12-24 months, technology systems were upgraded to facilitate mobile access, on-demand reservations, orders for delivery and pickup, contactless payments, digital menus, and loyalty programs to serve a 'contactless' dining experience," digital analyst Brian Solis wrote for Restaurant Dive in January.