Pokeworks, betting on the future of online ordering, delivery and pickup, is preparing to open a prototype drive-thru concept to fulfill third-party delivery and mobile app-based orders.
The new “Cruise-Thru” location in Knoxville, Tenn., represents an evolution of the Irvine, Calif.-based fast-casual chain’s efforts to accommodate increasing demand for off-premise dining. Peter Yang, chief development officer and cofounder of Pokeworks, estimated that third-party delivery sales doubled in 2020, compared with 2019 levels.
“We feel this habit is here to stay,” Yang said, even if delivery and takeout growth slows as the pandemic eases.
Pokeworks, founded in 2015, currently has 60 locations across the country, with 130 more in the pipeline. The Hawaii-inspired concept features a menu of customizable burritos, bowls and salads.
Unlike a traditional drive-thru, the Pokeworks Cruise-Thru lane will not allow on-site ordering, in an effort to speed the pick-up process for delivery drivers and for customers who use the Pokeworks Rewards App.
Amid the rapid increase in delivery orders in 2020, Pokeworks began creating dedicated pickup counters for third-party delivery drivers in existing stores and building dedicated pickup counters into new stores, complete with easy-to-navigate wayfinding so that drivers don’t interfere with other customers, Yang said. The Cruise-Thru concept represents an evolution of this effort, as well as an extension of the company’s digital ordering strategy.
“We want to make it as seamless as possible, to the point where they just drive up, give us their order number, and we hand them their bag,” Yang said.
He said Pokeworks plans to test the concept “for a few quarters” before rolling it out more broadly.
The new prototype, which will be operated by local multi-unit franchisees Shawn and April Comerford, is a remodeled building that previously had been a Dunkin’ café with a drive-thru. The existing infrastructure helped keep construction costs relatively low, according to Yang.
The company is working with Knoxville-based architecture and design firm R2R Studio LLC on the project.
Yang said additional Cruise-Thru locations could be opened in areas where the real estate allows, citing in particular the opportunities in Texas, where Pokeworks currently operates about 15 locations, according to its website.
In 2020, Pokeworks also invested in enhancing its digital presence to support the increase in demand, including revamping the digital photos of its food to bring the online ordering experience closer to the in-store experience, where customers choose a base, a protein and toppings.
The company also integrated third-party delivery into its app to make it appear seamless to customers, and is incorporating more promotional campaigns and special offers for app users.