All kinds of off-premise food ordering options have been growing in popularity as the coronavirus pandemic forced storefronts to close, assisted by the convenience of online food ordering. Drive-thrus have been a longtime way for customers to order without entering the restaurant,
but now several major chains are working to integrate drive-thru and mobile ordering. By creating separate lanes for drive-thru pickup of mobile orders and designing store concepts around ‘double drive-thru’, restaurants stand to expand their capacity for drive-thru sales in 2021.
The Impact of Mobile Ordering on Pickup
Restaurant delivery and ordering apps have changed how restaurants do business. Customers can order from the menu at their own pace and without taking employee time, and choose pickup or delivery. In the pandemic, mobile ordering is way up; third-party app Grubhub reported a 41% increase in revenue in Q2 2020 from the same period last year.
In order to accommodate demand and serve customers without making them enter the restaurant, the curbside pickup has been adopted by many restaurants. It has become increasingly organized by notifying customers when to pick up at designated parking spaces or lanes, paralleling drive-thru services. Drive-thru has also been popular during the pandemic; customers increased their drive-thru usage by 43% since April.
However, many more restaurants have adopted curbside compared to adding drive-thru. A survey from the National Restaurant Association found that only 3% of restaurants added drive-thru compared to 67% adding curbside pickup. There are two major limitations on adding drive-thru: building a drive-thru booth takes additional space and construction costs, and drive-thru ordering is only practical for quick-service restaurants that can rapidly fill out orders while customers wait.
Restaurants Add ‘Double Drive Thru’ for Mobile Customers
Restaurants that already specialize in drive-thru are adapting to mobile ordering by adding new store designs focused on mobile orders. Taco Bell’s Go Mobile design, meant for pickup customers, will launch in 2021 with a traditional drive-thru lane and a second lane meant for picking up mobile orders. The app will direct customers to the lane or send them to curbside pickup spaces if the drive-thru lane is too busy. Chipotle’s ‘Chipotlane’ feature works similarly, and their app tells users if a nearby location has a drive-thru lane. The chain plans to include it in 60% of its new locations.
Since customers are ordering in advance on their mobile device, mobile drive-thru avoids the buildup of vehicles having to stop at the ordering window, then wait for their food to be ready. Customers can get notified, drive up to the window, and get their order rapidly, letting the restaurant fulfil orders quickly.
Can Other Restaurants Adopt Mobile Drive-Thru?
Restaurants like Taco Bell that already have drive-thru windows and make lines devoted to takeout are best equipped for the mobile drive-thru, but it opens up the door to other restaurants as well. Curbside pickup in designated parking spots limits the number of spaces, and driving through a lane is faster and more convenient for customers. It also creates less confusion for employees trying to locate and reach pickup customers. Adopters of curbside pickups, such as Texas Roadhouse, have already incorporated elements of drive-thru by creating temporary lanes meant for pickup customers.
While not all stores can prepare food as fast as quick-service restaurants, using an app improves your ability to direct customers to arrive at a certain time and place, so using a drive-thru lane for pickup can be viable for other kinds of restaurants as well.
To provide fast service to pick up customers in their vehicles, restaurants need to be ready. Employees tasked with serving pickup orders should have easy access to the packaged orders themselves plus condiments and utensils for customer requests. With payment through the app, employees don’t need to worry about bringing cash out to make a change for customers and can resolve orders quickly.
As mobile app ordering becomes the norm, the potential is growing for new and more efficient ways to serve customers at their convenience. With more restaurants relying on takeout, following the drive-thru approach can take advantage of the potential of mobile ordering in the pandemic beyond curbside pickup.