- McDonald’s has opened a test restaurant with a separate drive-thru lane for mobile orders, which delivers meals to customers on a conveyor belt, the company announced Thursday.
- The location is 26% smaller than an average traditional McDonald’s unit, according to a company statement emailed to Restaurant Dive. It does not offer a dining room, but features digital ordering kiosks, a pickup room for delivery couriers and pickup shelves.
- McDonald’s first shared plans for this test restaurant in 2020 during its Investor Update. The unit is part of a broader corporate focus on innovation, particularly around drive-thru design.
This off-premise-only unit also features a traditional drive-thru lane, and will serve as a testing ground for new technology and restaurant configurations before deploying them at wider scale.
Max Carmona, McDonald’s senior director of global design and restaurant development, said the new drive-thru features were part of the company’s efforts to remain at the cutting edge of drive-thru and off-premise.
McDonald’s said it uses location technology to detect when mobile app customers are approaching, prompting employees to make the meals in order to maximize freshness. The restaurant, which is operated by franchisee Keith Vanecek, also includes unspecified kitchen changes to streamline operations. The smaller footprint may also make the unit attractive in terms of development costs, which have risen and slowed industry development in the last year. But the company said in an email to Restaurant Dive that it doesn’t anticipate the unit to save on labor compared to a traditional unit.
QSR and fast casual restaurants have been testing new off-premise-focused units as competition makes speed of service and seamless customer experiences more important. In October, Jack in the Box opened its first off-premise only unit, and fast casual brands like Jimmy John’s and Sweetgreen have intensified their drive-thru development efforts. Inspire Brands, meanwhile, has been testing the waters on modular, takeout-only designs.
McDonald’s recent tests of innovation, including plant-based burgers and voice-ordering technology, have been a bit underwhelming at scale, perhaps reflecting the limits of some of the restaurant sector’s trends.