- Smokey Bones, a 62-unit barbecue chain in 16 states, is opening its first fully equipped all digital drive-thru lane in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Wednesday, according to a press release.
- The drive-thru includes a digital menu board, digital order confirmation, high-quality audio and drive-up window for express menu pickup and parking spots for customers ordering food that takes more time.
- Smokey Bones has been focusing on reaching more off-premise customers in the last few years, from launching virtual brands to opening a ghost kitchen in Chicago in 2020.
“We decided to have a traditional drive-thru — unlike other variants that we are seeing in the industry — because it has the least amount of friction in the guest experience,” CEO James O’Reilly said. A restaurant with a pickup-only window, for example, requires customers to order either by phone or digitally and pay ahead, adding potential friction points.
“All restaurant consumers know how easy and convenient drive-thrus are,” O’Reilly said.
Smokey Bones’ off-premise operations and virtual brands did so well with guests during the pandemic that the company also felt like a drive-thru was the best way to meet more customers going forward, O’Reilly said. Menus from both of its virtual brands will also be offered at the drive-thru.
The availability of express and curbside menus could help streamline operations. O’Reilly said the company chose items that can be prepared within five minutes for its express menu while allowing customers to use curbside pickup to purchase some of their favorites that may take longer.
“We estimate that pending the results of the experience that we'll have in Bowling Green that a significant portion of our locations could have drive-thrus added to them,” O’Reilly said.
In addition to the new drive-thru Smokey Bones has made in-roads on its off-premise operations, opening virtual brands The Wing Experience and Burger Experience in 2019 and then its first ghost kitchen in the Windy City the following year. In April, the chain opened a 5,800 square foot prototype in Avon, Indiana, with a dedicated to-go area.
Smokey Bones’ drive-thru also will allow it to better compete with barbecue chain competitor Famous Dave’s, which has been making similar moves in off-premise with ghost kitchens, a virtual brand, a drive-thru and a fast casual line-service restaurant.