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Whataburger has created a Digital Kitchen in Bee Cave, Texas, with no drive-thru that features smartphone app and kiosk ordering and food lockers for pickup.

Food lockers and technology help boost restaurant carryout sales

Restaurants lean into digitally powered curbside offerings to direct customers away from delivery and drive thru.

Chuy’s topped the list of full-service restaurant brands exceling at carryout, according to data by market research firm Technomic.

Austin, Texas-based Chuy’s, with 99 units as of June 25, was followed by Darden-owned Olive Garden, daytime-breakfast stalwart First Watch, Logan’s Roadhouse and Miller’s Ale House. Jersey Mike’s, meanwhile, proved to be tops in the fast-casual category, followed by Jimmy John’s and Jason’s Deli. And in quick service, Technomic found Marco’s Pizza to be the best, followed by Smoothie King and Dutch Bros Coffee.


Chuy's Holdings Inc. led Technomic's full-service carryout rankings. Marco's Pizza led quick-service rankings, and Jersey Mike's Subs led the fast-casual list.

The ratings reflect new-found interest in carryout and curbside, as technology companies continue to roll out new tools that drive customers to those channels.

Steven Hislop, Chuy’s CEO, president and chair, said in an Aug. 3 second-period earnings call that the off-premises channel “performed very well during the quarter, mixing at approximately 28% of total sales as compared to 27% a year ago.”

“In terms of our marketing initiatives, our optimized digital media strategy effectively communicates our defining differences, from our incredible value for our made-from-scratch food and drink to our exciting LTO offerings and overall differentiated experience at every Chuy's restaurant,” Hislop said. “This includes the use of TikTok, organic influencer programs on Instagram and Facebook, YouTube video advertising and the promotional advertising partnership with DoorDash.”

Founded in 1982, Chuy’s is among established brands looking to the new channels for sales.

The recent FSTEC show in Dallas reflected how suppliers are responding to that search, with several large exhibitors, like Apex Order Pickup Solutions of Mason, Ohio, displaying new technologies to make pickup easier.

Ashley McNamara, Apex’s vice president of global marketing, said her company recently worked with Whataburger to open a new digital-only restaurant near Austin, Texas, providing food locker technology for the carryout channel, as the unit has no drive-thru.


While jettisoning the traditional quick-service drive thru at that Bee Cave, Texas, location, the Whataburger Digital Kitchen also went cashless, the company said.

The San Antonio, Texas-based burger brand said the unit, which opened in early September in the community northwest of Austin, Texas, is exclusively digital, with customers ordering from a kiosk or through the smartphone app.

“The Digital Kitchen is similar to Whataburger’s standard restaurants at nearly 2,300 square feet,” a spokesperson said. The unit does not have a traditional seating area or drive thru. Kiosk and delivery pickup orders are available in specially designed food lockers or cubbies.

The Whataburger Digital Kitchen integrates new innovations, including digital ordering and a “Digital Pick-up Lane,” instead of a traditional drive- thru, the company said.

Customers can place orders via the Whataburger Rewards app or online. Placing orders ahead for pick up at the new Digital Pick-up Lane reduces time waiting in the drive thru, the company said.

“Making Whataburger quicker and more convenient for our guests means fully embracing the digital restaurant experience — but not forgetting who we are at our core: a hometown Whataburger,” said Ed Nelson, Whataburger president and CEO, in a statement. “Our Austin guests were early to embrace other digital innovations, making it a perfect fit for our first Whataburger Digital Kitchen.”

Whataburger, founded in 1950, has more than 950 locations in 14 states. The then-family-owned company in 2019 sold a majority interest to Chicago-based merchant bank BDT Capital Partners.

The use of branded smartphone applications has offered brands a chance to take order payments and allow the use of food lockers for customers to pick up their orders.

That, in turn, increases sales in those channels, which get around the steep fees of third-party delivery companies.

In the full-service segment, Olive Garden has become a leader in curbside pickup, which tends toward larger family-style orders.

For the most recent quarter, Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse same-store sales were up 8.1%. Olive Garden, which represents about 45% of the company’s revenue, increased its same-store sales by 6.1%, the company reported in late September.

Rick Cardenas, CEO of the Orlando, Fla.-based restaurant company, said executives had noticed customers were managing check a little more than earlier in the year, which would drive more guests to more cost-saving modes of ordering such as carryout and curbside.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on X: @RonRuggless

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