For our November print issue, we asked local experts to gaze into the crystal ball to predict what life in the Little Rock metro area will be like in 2050.
Quick service is going to go automation; it’s already heading in that direction. I think it’s going to get even more efficient as we move forward. They’re building double-decker Taco Bells now where the kitchen is on the second floor and you’ve got your drive-thru underneath the building. What’s going to happen with the drive-thrus is they’re going to be constructing their buildings on stilts with drive throughs underneath, so you’re going to see six-, seven-, eight-lane drive-thrus in the bigger markets, so now you’re able to stack 40 or 50 cars. Just look at what Chick-fil-A’s doing downtown. They’re going strictly drive-thru with a capacity from what I’ve been told is 40 cars at a time.
From my experience with a previous brand, we were looking at locations of 2,000-2,500 square feet, and then we came in and kind of revolutionized it with drive-thru and the efficiency, and now the model for that brand is now 1,200-1,400 square feet. They’ve cut it in half just in the last seven years. So that goes to show you, I mean you just look at your data. Once COVID hit and restaurant lobbies were closed but drive-thrus were open, it totally conditioned people to never use the lobby. But they weren’t going there for the experience. Who goes into a Taco Bell for the experience?
Delivery has completely changed the game in the past two years, and it’s only going to move more in that direction. When we looked at our business pre-COVID, delivery accounted for 12-15%; now it accounts for 30-40% … because of the platforms. DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, there’s so many options. What’s cool for us is now DoorDash integrates with our point-of-sale system, and it’s seamless for us. They’ve made it so much easier for us as operators, delivery is no different than takeout. It’s completely shifted and given the consumer more convenience. So it’s only going to continue to grow more and more automated, more and more delivery, and essentially what you’re going to be paying for is the experience. Fine dining is where you’re going to want to go get your experience, your more exotic food, your elevated service, food and fusions chefs are going to come up with in the next 10 to 15 years with the different ingredients they’re exposed to — I think that’s what you’re going to be going for.
Another thing we’ve got to look at is how are we going to be on sustainability? That’s a huge question. So I think we’re going to be moving a lot more toward experimenting with more vegan, more plant protein stuff like we’re doing now. We see it now in fast food and we see it in fine dining already. So I think sustainability is a huge key part of how the business is going to grow with what ingredients are going to be available. I think that’s going to be a huge substitute for a lot of the meats to keep the costs down. It’s a major proponent of how the industry’s going to shift.
Jason Alley is co-owner of Rock N’ Roll Sushi.