Digital orders and drive-thrus are the future of Chipotle. Now, the fast casual chain is designing a restaurant to reflect that.
Chipotle is soon opening a new location in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio that eliminates the dining room and in-person ordering, forcing customers to only order ahead through its app or website. The restaurant will also have a drive-thru — which the company calls a Chipotlane — as well as a walk-up window for order pickups and a small patio section where customers can eat their meals.
Around 10% of Chipotle’s roughly 3,000 US locations currently have a drive-thru, which have become increasingly important during the pandemic with basically all the major fast food brands building more of them.
The company said that locations featuring a Chipotlane have “approximately 15 percent higher sales compared to non-Chipotlanes opened during the same period.” Chipotle (CMG) has reconfigured 12 existing restaurants to add a drive-thru, and the company revealed that those locations are experiencing an increase in sales.
The new restaurant differs slightly from the previous store format the company has been experimenting with near West Point, New York.
In November 2020, the chain opened a “digital only” location about 60 miles north of New York City that has a small island for seating rather than a traditional dining room. That design emphasizes the “sounds, smells and kitchen views of a traditional Chipotle,” but doesn’t have a drive-thru and sits on a much smaller footprint compared to a typical location.
Similar to that model, the upcoming Ohio location offers a two-pronged advantage for Chipotle: It’s much smaller than a traditional restaurant, so the design can cheaply fit in more urban areas where real estate is pricier. Starbucks rolled out a similar concept in 2019 in New York City.
Also, the Ohio design eliminates problematic aspects of the restaurants’ designs that were exposed during the Covid-19 era, including indoor dining, which now requires proof of vaccination in some US cities. And it keeps employees safer by removing the need for face-to-face contact during the ordering process.
The company has been performing well over the past few months, despite raising its menu prices to cover the higher costs of wages and ingredients. In the third quarter, revenue grew 22% to $2 billion. Sales at restaurants open at least 13 months spiked 15%.