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Are Pickup-Only Formats the Future of Food?

As digital ordering grows in popularity, food companies are adapting with new formats.

Taco Bell

Yum Brands Inc. plans to launch a Taco Bell mobile restaurant in first quarter 2021 under the Taco Bell Go Mobile banner.

Taco Bell Go Mobile locations will be around 1,353-sq. ft., compared to the average 2,500-sq. ft. Taco Bell restaurant. The new concepts will also have two drive-thru lanes including a new priority pickup lane with rapid service for customers who order via the app.

Powered by smart kitchen technology that’s integrated with the Taco Bell app, Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurants will detect when guests arrive at the restaurant and suggest the quickest route for a seamless pick-up experience. Customers will also have the option to receive their order via contactless curbside pickup.

To streamline guests’ experiences, Taco Bell Go Mobile will include tablet ordering in drive-thrus and curbside pickup, both of which will be operated by a concierge service of team members, known as “bellhops.”

“With demand for our drive-thru at an all-time high, we know adapting to meet our consumers rapidly changing needs has never been more important,” said Taco Bell president, Global COO, Mike Grams. “The Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant concept is not only an evolved physical footprint but a completely synchronized digital experience centered around streamlining guest access points.”



Starbucks revealed it is accelerating the rollout of new pick-up stores, reported ABC News (July 30).

“In urban core markets where drive-thru and curbside aren’t feasible, we will begin to reposition our store formats,” CEO Kevin Johnson said. “These stores are built in a smaller footprint and create a familiar and convenient walk-through experience that is very relevant to customers in urban markets.”

The new store concepts will “ideally be located within a three- to five-minute walk from a traditional Starbucks store” to give customers flexibility to enjoy a beverage in the store or on the go. The company plans to accelerate the development of over 50 of these stores over the next 12 to 18 months with a view to have several hundred in the U.S. over the next three to five years.

Additionally, Starbucks will introduce “a simple handheld device to further increase throughput and improve the customer experience.” A new curbside pickup experience will also be available in 700 to 1,000 locations by the end of this quarter to enable incremental customer visits.

Shake Shack

For the first time, Shake Shack is venturing into the drive-thru concept, reported CNBC (Aug. 5).

Stores will have lanes for ordering onsite and for digital order pickup. At some restaurants, the company wants to build either a lane only for digital order pickup or a walk-up window, both of which have been dubbed “Shack Tracks.”

“Look, in the moment of safety, people want to stay in their cars,” Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti told analysts on a conference call. “That’s not going to last forever. But obviously, this country has proven that the drive-thru in its old form works. We want to do in this new form.”


Chipotle opened its first “Chipotlanes” in 2018 as part of its push into digital ordering.

The drive-thru lanes are only for digital order pickup to cut down on the chain’s indoor lines and speed up service. Chipotle is planning for 60% of new restaurants this year to have a Chipotlane, up from its 50% forecast in February. By 2021, 70% of its new locations will have a drive-thru lane.

The chain’s 13 restaurants with a Chipotlane that have been open for more than a year are experiencing 10% higher same-store sales than the locations without a drive-thru lane, according to CEO Brian Niccol.


Convenience store operator Wawa is testing a new drive-thru only format as people gravitate to contactless shopping methods during the pandemic, reported CNN (Aug. 13).

The 1,850-sq. ft. test store is expected to open in December in Falls Township, PA. It’s one of two drive-thru only stores planned this year with the other one slated to open in Westhampton, NJ.

At the Pennsylvania store, shoppers will pull up to a drive-thru window to place their order and a Wawa employee will process payment and hand over their items. If the drive-thru line gets too long, or if someone has a large order, customers will be directed to curbside parking where the order is brought out to the car.

Wawa said the idea for the drive-thru store was already in the works prior to the coronavirus outbreak, but it accelerated plans to test the concept.