Fast casual and casual dining chains are proving drive-thrus aren't just assets for fast food restaurants.
Pickup windows for mobile orders, for example, are proving to be a lucrative format for many chains. Chipotle's Chipotlane channel has become synonymous with the offering, driving a 15% bump in sales compared to a traditional restaurant. Even Applebee's, which tested a digital pick up window in 2021, is thinking of expanding this format to 15 locations this year.
The pandemic also proved that drive-thrus can fuel growth in a challenging economic environment, pushing several chains to explore drive-thru pick up windows and drive-thru only formats for the first time.
Check out the latest chains exploring drive-thru formats below:
Inspire Brands' sandwich chain opened its first drive-thru only restaurant in Bartow, Florida, in February. The format has two lanes, with one designated for mobile and online order pick up. The restaurant also offers lockers for carryout for customers who want a contactless experience while picking up their online orders. While Jimmy John’s has several drive-thrus in its portfolio, this is the first to not have a dining room.
Famous Dave's first drive-thru has been in the works since last year and opened in March in Salt Lake City. At 3,300 square feet, the restaurant is about half the size of a traditional 6,500-square-foot Famous Dave's, and will aim to serve customers in under four minutes, CEO Jeff Crivello previously told Restaurant Dive. The franchised location will test the format for six months to a year before the company decides to expand the layout further. The full-service barbecue chain has also been testing a frontline service, dubbed "Quick 'Que," in Las Vegas and Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
Smokey Bones will open its first drive-thru in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in April, according to a press release sent to Restaurant Dive. The drive-thru will function similarly to a traditional drive-thru and will feature digital ordering boards, digital order confirmation, a drive-up window for express menu pickup and parking spots for customers ordering off of its "Made Fresh For You" menu. The company, which released two digital-only brands, The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience, in 2019, will also offer these menus through the drive-thru.
The fast casual salad chain plans to open its first drive-thru pickup window, also known as "Sweetlane," in Schaumburg, Illinois within the next year, the company announced in March. The Sweetlane will be available for customers who place their orders online in advance. Customers will also be able to watch staff prepare salads via an observation window while they wait in their cars to pick up their meals. The opening date is yet to be determined.