Chick-fil-A is testing express drive-thru lanes at select stores for mobile orders only. Jonathan Lassiter, a senior integration leader on Chick-fil-A’s service and hospitality team, called it “a game-changer for our busy customers and our team members” in a release. Throughout initial testing, the company said the new lanes have decreased wait time “significantly,” because guests have ordered and paid in advance. The company also said most customers who use the express drive-thru choose to use it again on their next visit. The Drive-Thru Express is currently operating at 60 locations across the country with a larger rollout expected in 2023, pending further testing.
CEC Entertainment completed its market-wide remodel of 10 Chuck E. Cheese locations in South Florida and expects them to provide insights into future refresh projects. The locations offer new technology featuring games with varying skill levels for players, an interactive dance floor, device-charging stations and a 200-inch LED video wall. “The locations also feature updated seating to accommodate larger groups,” a spokesperson said, complete with charging stations for electronic devices. Each location features on average 15 new games, and a new light-up dance floor doubling as the centerstage for Chuck E. LIVE shows every hour on the half-hour.
Chipotle is looking at converting existing units to drive sales with margin-boosting Chipotlanes or walk-up windows. Tabassum Zalotrawala, chief development officer, told Nation’s Restaurant News the company is looking to optimize its existing 3,000-unit portfolio. In June, the first walk-up window in an existing unit debuted in Gainesville, Fla. It was not possible to add a Chipotlane there, but the unit has tremendous foot traffic and was ideal for a walk-up window test. Chipotle has opened several new restaurants with walk-up windows since it was first tested in the Chicago area in 2019.
KFC in May unveiled the “Crystal Bucket” restaurant in Painted Post, N.Y., with curved floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The former bank building is a one-off restaurant but has still been making waves, and has become a successful marketing tool for KFC fans in the area. The Crystal Bucket has a cathedral wooden ceiling and a bank vault that’s been turned into a tongue-in-cheek “vault” where they keep the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices. The unit also incorporates elements of the Next Gen KFC store redesigns like digital integration, built-in pickup shelving, and signage and dedicated parking for digital order pickup.
Panera Bread opened its first Panera To Go in Chicago, offering a new format that’s digitally focused on pickup and delivery orders. It’s the first of three test locations scheduled to open this year, with the others in California and Washington, D.C. Panera To Go, which serves all dayparts, has a reduced front of house where guests and delivery drivers can pick up orders from shelves. There is no seating. The brand will evaluate adding kiosk and catering orders to the new format in the future.
Tim Hortons is offering two new models of its restaurants, including a 900-square-foot drive-thru-only version, the first of which is scheduled to open this summer. The next generation of designs also includes a 24-seat, 1,600-square-foot restaurant. Older legacy Tim Hortons restaurants are about 2,500 square feet or larger. The new models feature a mobile pickup shelf and VIP mobile order parking spots, plus a simplified menu.
Announced in 2021, Taco Bell’s “redefined drive-thru” unit opened in Minnesota in June. Dubbed the “Taco Bell Defy,” the two-store restaurant features a four-lane drive-thru, digital check-in screens using QR codes for mobile orders, digital kiosks for walk-in guests, a vertical lift to send orders down to cars contact-free, and two-way video communication with restaurant staffers on the unit’s second floor. The unit is designed to reduce service times to less than two minutes, which will surpass the chain’s average of less than four minutes. Officials say the Defy features could show up in future Taco Bell units across the U.S., and franchisee Border Foods is planning retrofits to neighboring restaurants before a “Defy 2.0” is developed.