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Faster Drive-Thrus Are Eating Dining Rooms’ Lunch And Reshaping The Future Of Restaurants

The quick-service restaurant (QSR) drive-thru hardly seems like it would be the cutting edge of technology. If anything, the channel has vaguely retro connotations, calling up images of, say, “American Graffiti,” an early ‘70s recollection of the early ‘60s. Today, however, the drive-thru is a site of enormous innovation, in terms of how we order, how we pay, and how our food habits fit into the rest of our lives.

Taco Bell, for one, recently announced its new Defy restaurant, a four-lane drive-thru, three of which are for mobile orders, which sends meals down to consumers’ cars through a designated food elevator. The goal of the concept is to make the process go as quickly as possible.

As the chain’s president and global chief operating officer Mike Grams told PYMNTS in an interview, “Speed is everything when it comes to the drive-thru … We’re especially excited to hear consumers’ reactions to the contactless lift system that delivers food from the upstairs kitchen to cars in about six seconds.”

Meanwhile, drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros announced Friday (Aug. 20) that it has filed a registration statement for an initial public offering (IPO), with previous reports that the chain is seeking a $3 billion valuation. The company’s drive-thru model proved somewhat pandemic-proof. Its total revenue grew 37 percent during 2020, though its net income fell 80 percent.

Read more: Coffee QSR Dutch Bros Enlists JPMorgan, BoA, Barclays And Others As Managers For Proposed IPO

“Our drive-thru model, dedicated to beverages, generates substantial throughput evidenced by outstanding sales volumes, consistent and strong shop-level contribution margin and high return on investment,” reads the company’s registration form. “The optimized new shop prototype we have built over the past several years is specifically designed to capture demand during peak hours, generating approximately 40 percent higher sales volumes than many of our older legacy locations.”

The drive-thru channel has grown hugely in popularity since the start of the pandemic — Google Trends shows that searches for “drive-thru” remain more than five times more frequent than they were in February of 2020. Some restaurant chains that never offered the option are now unveiling new restaurants to capture this rise in interest. Shake Shack has been planning new drive-thru locations, and 7-Eleven and pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s have also opened their first drive-thru concepts.

See also: Shake Shack Uses Data To Provide Omnichannel Convenience, Create Playful Experiences

Restaurant Roundup: 7-Eleven Introduces First Drive-Thru Restaurant

Auntie Anne’s Pivots To Drive-Thrus Vs. Malls For Its Pretzels

“The demand for consumer accessibility has played an influential role in our focus in expanding Auntie Anne’s outside of our traditional mall locations, and we know the emphasis on drive-thru access has staying power,” Alisa Gmelich, chief brand officer for Auntie Anne’s, told PYMNTS in a May interview. “In fact, we hope to open four additional drive-thru locations across the country this year alone.”

Drive-thrus are also a major part of new Au Bon Pain Owner Ampex Brands’ strategy for the bakery café chain. As Ericka Garza, the new Au Bon Pain brand president, told PYMNTS last month, “The QSR business … is all about convenience, and it’s also about contactless.” She added that new drive-thrus will help the restaurant optimize labor its labor and draw in customers.

You may also like: New Au Bon Pain Owner Turns To Drive-Thrus, More Locations To Revitalize 40-Year-Old Brand

Drive-thru not only has the potential to bring in sales — it can also boost spending. PYMNTS research featured in the May edition of our Order to Eat report created in collaboration with Paytronix finds that more than 1 in 4 already-vaccinated restaurant customers would be encouraged to spend more on their food orders if the restaurant offered drive-thru pickup. Clearly, restaurants are taking note.

Related news: The Key Features That Helped Clean Juice Keep Sales Flowing

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