- Chipotle will open its first digital-only restaurant, dubbed Chipotle Digital Kitchen, on Saturday outside of West Point in Highland Falls, New York, according to a press release. The location will offer pickup and delivery only and does not include a dining room or a full-service line.
- Guests must order ahead via Chipotle's website or app and orders can be picked up from a lobby. The Digital Kitchen will also service large catering orders available for pickup in a separate lobby with a different entrance.
- Digital Kitchens will allow Chipotle to enter more urban areas that wouldn’t support a full-size restaurant. With Chipotle's digital sales tripling year-over-year last quarter, the company is exploring new ways to enhance the guest experience and this prototype will complement that growing business, Curt Garner, Chipotle's chief technology officer, said in the press release.
This isn’t likely to be the only new kitchen prototype Chipotle develops. Its new Cultivate Center, a 22,000-square-foot facility near Chipotle's Irvine, California, headquarters will be used to test prototypes and recipes, according to the press release. The chain will also use the space to film commercials and provide restaurant training. The center opened during the fall.
Within this facility, its Center of Excellence for Design and Construction houses a fully equipped lab, metal cutting and woodworking machinery to build and test prototypes before they are rolled out in restaurants.
Chipotle’s digital business is growing seemingly exponentially and on track to surpass $2.5 billion this year. To support this growth, it's also planning to have a bulk of its future restaurants include Chipotlanes, where customers pre-order online and use the drive-thru to collect their orders. By the end of the third quarter, the company had 128 Chipotlanes and is on its way to reach between 150 and 165 Chipotlanes this year.
Chipotle has already been testing restaurants with pickup windows that would work in multiple environments. The windows function in a similar way to Chipotlanes, allowing customers to order ahead and pick up their orders without entering the store. The company is also considering smaller restaurants with Chipotlanes that have a tiny dining room or no dining room, Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said. These units could be located in between two traditional locations and be used to reach more customers that might not be close enough to frequent the large restaurants, he said.
With the pandemic pushing more customers toward digital avenues and preferring takeout or delivery versus dine-in, many other chains are reconsidering restaurant designs as well. Starbucks started rolling out pickup-only stores in urban areas last year, but said in March it has accelerated its plan to build more drive-thrus. Qdoba is testing different prototypes including ones with drive-thrus only, ghost kitchens, pickup windows and mobile pickup locations inside stores. McDonald's is looking to develop smaller express pickup restaurants as well, and Wendy’s is considering drive-thru only prototypes. Captain D's, a fast casual restaurant with over 500 locations, will open its first Express location, which will have a drive-thru and walkup window but no dining room, in Atlanta in Q2 2021.