Imagine … The Golden Arches gone green and tucked into durable facades rather than looming large over their locations.
Attention-grabbing signage is no longer necessary—not when customers can click a McDonald's icon in their cell phones and be routed to the nearest location.
That location, by the way, is in an urban setting, at an intersection that generates more foot traffic than automotive. Inside, carbon footprint information is as prominently positioned as nutritional facts, allowing customers to make purchasing decision based not only on calorie and fat counts, but also supply chain logistics. All flooring, walls, and furnishings are made of recyclable materials like wood, aluminum, and steel. Modular partitions made of renewable metal frames and recycled composite finishes instead of concrete and drywall make up the store’s bones.
Prime urban sites come at a premium, but technology allows architects to respond with smaller, more efficient space plans and building systems that allow operators to quickly adapt.
"Patrons not only order by phone, but pay by phone, too, so there are no cash exchanges, no cashiers, and no lines," predicts futurist and bestselling author Daniel Burris. "Advances in robotics allow systems rather than workers to assemble Big Macs. It's all about bandwidth, processing power, and storage capability—and they're growing exponentially."
Resulting spaces are not only tighter and more flexible but also less spartan than 2010’s units. Wood furnishings, bamboo flooring, and warm color palettes encourage adults to linger, even as digital ordering and payment encourage teens to grab it and go. The welcoming environment offsets the increasingly technocratic underpinnings of American life in general—a phenomenon older Americans, who far outnumber younger ones, find especially jarring, Burris says.
"In concept, the [average fast-food restaurant] has become more like Starbucks," says Washington, D.C.–based futurist Jennifer Jarrett, who has consulted with McDonald's Corp. and PepsiCo, "but the ability to access the Internet is the least of it. Buildings are engineered to accommodate large screens that hang like paintings but transmit news, games, and entertainment—interactive activities that leverage broadband technology."
The energy those technologies use derives from solar panels atop roof tops or "exterior building paints that store and convert solar energy, much as the panels do," Burris says. On-site catalysts convert char broiler particulate into carbon dioxide and water, reducing smoke, odors, and emissions. "As a side business, quick-serves have begun converting cooking grease to biodiesel fuel," Burris predicts. "Consumers can fuel up their cars while picking up lunch or dinner."
Signage, logos, and the like are illumed with LED, whose efficiency have rendered incandescent lighting obsolete. The same is true of interior lighting. — John Gregerson