experience

Taco Bell, Chipotle to Expand Drive-Through Locations in 2021

70% of new Chipotles opening in 2021 will have dedicated “Chipotlanes.”
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Francis Scialabba

· less than 3 min read

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Where we’re going, we’ll definitely need roads. Drive-throughs are a mainstay for fast food and quick-service chains, but over the last year, their sales volume rose like every day was McRib szn.

Drive-through sales accelerated in 2020, from 4% YoY growth in January to 22% by the end of the year.

Driving by

Taco Bell and Chipotle will roll out new restaurant models focused on the drive-through experience, both as a place to order food on four wheels and to easily scoop up an online order. The reason: They anticipate demand for contactless (or contact-lite) options to continue post-pandemic.

  • Taco Bell’s remodeling some restaurants to feature two drive-through lanes and smaller dining spaces. T-Bell plans to open at least 30 such stores by year’s end, after piloting its “Go Mobile” format in Oklahoma last year.
  • 70% of Chipotles opened in 2021 will have dedicated “Chipotlanes.” The stores are built to facilitate more digital orders via expanded drive-through lanes that serve both mobile (car) and mobile (phone) orders.

By the numbers: Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum Brands, said its US chains, including KFC, saw “record-breaking drive-thru performance” in 2020. Meanwhile, Chipotlanes are meant to further drive Chipotle’s digital sales, which last year grew higher than the price of a burrito bowl with guac and double steak, accounting for 70% of its total sales versus the typical ~20%.

And across all restaurants, drive-throughs accounted for 44% of off-premise sales.

Shifting multiple gears

Drive-through upgrades aren’t usually implemented in a vacuum. They’re often combined with new investments and strategies, like mobile ordering, as noted above.

  • While Chick-fil-A, McDonalds, and Sweetgreen trim menus for more streamlined transactions, Starbucks is going against the grain and adding menu items.
  • The coffee chain’s goal isn’t to be the fastest, but rather to lean into customization. Still, Starbucks plans to test dual lane and drive-through only locations to handle increased volume.
  • Yum Brands just acquired Tictuk, a platform that allows customers to order using social media and messaging apps, per CNBC.

Bottom line: Fast food chains and QSRs are leaning into drive-throughs to appeal to customers in search of contactless or low-contact options.

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