In April 2018, Brian Niccol, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s newly appointed CEO, hinted that drive-thrus could play a big part in the brand’s digital business, which at the time was not visible.
“Drive-thrus, I think, are an interesting proposition for Chipotle,” the former Taco Bell chief executive said then.
Today, Chipotlanes are more than an interesting proposition. The drive-thru lanes, designed for customers to pick up mobile orders, are fast becoming a major part of Chipotle’s development plans. On Wednesday, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based fast-casual chain said it will open its 100th Chipotlane later this month in Ohio.
In the first quarter, the chain, which has seen digital sales soar during the pandemic, opened 11 restaurants with Chipotlanes. The brand now has drive-thru lanes in 32 states.
During the pandemic, when dine-in operations were off-limits, consumers turned to chains that offered contactless ordering and pickup options. Quick-service chains with drive-thrus have also been popular during the crisis.
Chipotle restaurants with pick-up lanes allow the brand to compete with QSR, but with one advanage: the wait is not as long. Because consumers order ahead, they are able to grab their food at the drive-thru window within minutes.
“This is what drive-thru should be,” Niccol previously stated. “The actual [QSR] drive-thru experience is not great.”
Scott Boatwright, chief restaurant officer, said customers appreciate that Chipotle is giving them the ability to retrieve their orders without leaving their car.
At the peak of the pandemic, Chipotle said it planned to accelerate its growth of Chipotlanes because orders from these channels are also more profitable. Chipotlanes are expected to be included in more than 60% of new Chipotle restaurants, the company said.
Jack Hartung, Chipotle’s chief financial officer, said the lanes help “drive our high-margin digital order-ahead transaction.”
Prior to the pandemic, digital sales at Chipotle accounted for 19.6% of total sales at the chain. In the first quarter, digital sales grew 80.8%, reaching a record $372 million. Digital sales accounted for 26.3% of total sales.
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