Drive-By Innovation

Restaurants reassess how customers get their food

 

the Edge

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To lure hungry patrons who are wary of indoor dining in the age of the coronavirus, restaurants are launching a feast of new projects to deliver better drive-thru service.

Shake Shack unveiled plans for its first-ever drive-thru—with in-person ordering and dedicated mobile lanes—set to open next year, though the global eatery has been mum about the project location so far. Chipotle, which had only 10 drive-thru “Chipotlanes” in February 2019, has since launched more than 100 of them at existing locations and has more than 80 additional planned for new restaurants over the next year.

Even drive-thru-tested restaurants are looking to improve the experience. In August, Taco Bell unveiled a new design for a dual-lane drivethru with dedicated curbside delivery and mobile pickup shelves, along with heavily tech-integrated kitchens that inform workers the fastest way to make the order and communicate to the customer the easiest way to pick up the food. The first locations featuring the new designs are expected to open in early 2021.

“Projects we anticipated would take five to 10 years are being prioritized and integrated into [the drive-thru] experience as we go forward,” Mike Grams, president and global COO of Taco Bell, told Fast Company. “COVID has [proven] customers want easy, convenient access to the things they love.”

Starbucks, which saw its mobile and drive-thru orders jump from roughly 60 percent of sales volume before the pandemic to 90 percent in the third quarter, plans to introduce handheld point-of-sale tablets that allow employees to take orders on foot in the drive-thru line. And when that line gets too long? Starbucks is also developing a system that would allow customers to park after ordering and pick up inside.

The Edge written by: Ambreen Ali, Steve Hendershot, Amanda Hermans, Jen Thomas and Amy Wilkinson

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