A Shrinking Design for COVID Times

August 24, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


First, a confession: I have not eaten at a Taco Bell in years – perhaps decades. But when I heard that the famed fast food chain was redesigning their dining areas, I was intrigued:

Starting next year, the restaurants will encompass 1,325 square feet (123 square meters) compared with an average 2,500 square feet for Taco Bell restaurants now. 

Two drive-through lanes will highlight the new restaurants, enabling faster service for eaters who order through the chain’s app. The new facilities will provide contactless curbside-pickup service.

This is in response, the designers explained, to a new reality – that fewer people are eating out since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, this is a trend that these designers believe will continue well into the future.

I think they could be right. Even as restaurants re-open, anxiety levels remain high. Many who once felt comfortable around strangers now prefer the company of a close group of friends.

In some ways, Taco Bell’s redesign is a return to the roots of the fast-food industry. When fast food restaurants first started dotting the American landscape, many of them did not have dining areas at all. They were drive-up and walk-up food stands. Indeed, the first Taco Bell had a walk-up window only and was no larger than a two-car garage. But a lack of a dining room does not mean that community around food no longer matters.

In college, my fast food haunt was a nearby Jack In The Box. Its two tacos for 99 cents was too good a deal for a college student to resist. Though I would never actually eat at the restaurant, I would also never eat from the restaurant alone. A buddy would always go with me to the drive-thru and we would bring a bag of tacos back to our dorm to share. The community was incredible, even if the food was not.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the importance of meals and community. The Atlantic summarized a few of these studies a few years back:

Using data from nearly three-quarters of the world’s countries, an analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that students who do not regularly eat with their parents are significantly more likely to be truant at school…

Children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week also were 40 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those who do, as outlined in a research presentation given at the European Congress on Obesity in Bulgaria… On the contrary, children who do eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often, according to a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

With such pronounced sociological benefits, it’s no wonder that in the early Church:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together. (Acts 2:46)

COVID-19 has taken a lot from us, including, for many, a center of community in restaurants. Many restaurants remain shuttered. For those that are open, the experience is not the same. Half empty dining areas and blocked-off tables provide a strange – instead of friendly – experience. But community will outlast COVID. After all, we need each other. Whether in our homes, in a dorm room, or in a restaurant dining room, we will find ways to be together. The early Church did. And we still will.

For right now, eating out may be dangerous to our health. But figuring out ways to be together that don’t spread disease remains good for our souls.

Entry filed under: Current Trends. Tags: , , , , , .

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