- Taco Bell is launching a new restaurant concept called Taco Bell Go Mobile that is designed specifically for diners to order ahead through the chain's mobile app, the company announced in a press release Thursday. Two company-owned Go Mobile locations will open in Q1 2021, Taco Bell Global Chief Operating Officer Mike Grams told CNBC.
- Go Mobile locations will include one traditional drive-thru lane and a priority pickup drive-thru lane that quickly services customers who order through the Taco Bell app. Smart kitchen technology that integrates with the chain's app will recognize when a diner has arrived at the restaurant and will guide them to either the priority drive-thru lane or designated parking spaces for contactless curbside pickup, depending on which is faster. Inside, the store will feature shelves for digital order pickup.
- Go Mobile restaurants will be 1,325 square feet compared to standard Taco Bell locations, which average at 2,500 square feet, and will include tablet ordering at both its drive-thrus and curbside pickup operated by team members known as "bellhops."
Taco Bell's new concept builds on the beta loyalty program it launched on its mobile app nationwide last month, which allows diners to customize their orders. At Go Mobile locations, mobile customers will be able to select how they wish to collect their orders, too. If diners pick Taco Bell's suggested path to pickup, they will earn more loyalty points.
The chain has been working to reduce friction across its operations, recently shrinking its menu size and shaving down drive-thru times by more than 15 seconds since Q1 2020, according to the press release.
This push comes amid rapidly changing diner behavior in response to dining room closures and municipal social distancing mandates. Fast food mobile app usage jumped from 51% in April to 64% in July, according to research from Bluedot and SeeLevel HX, and diners increased their drive-thru usage by 43% since April and increased their curbside pickup usage as well. Forty percent of survey respondents reported they use curbside pickup more often, compared to 27% in April. But growing consumer familiarity with drive-thru hasn't reduced diner demand for efficient fast food experiences. Wccording to the study, 81% of consumers believe drive-thru wait times of more than 10 minutes are too long.
Offering differentiated drive-thru lanes could help Taco Bell deepen loyalty by offering competitive speed of service. The chain's new smart kitchen technology can tell employees the most efficient way to prepare a customer's food, as well, which could further reduce wait times.
Taco Bell is currently developing ways to convert existing restaurants to the new design and will help franchisees build their own, Grams told CNBC, and will also add the concept's technology to urban restaurants and Cantinas.
"With demand for our drive-thru at an all-time high, we know adapting to meet our consumers rapidly changing needs has never been more important," Grams said in the release. "The Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant concept is not only an evolved physical footprint, but a completely synchronized digital experience centered around streamlining guest access points."
The Mexican chain is also diversifying its store network by converting suburban stores to its Cantina format. In March, Taco Bell announced plans to convert three suburban restaurants as a test, with plans to eventually revamp 7,000 restaurants.
Taco Bell is one of several major chains looking to better adapt to pandemic conditions. Shake Shack announced in May that it will remodel some restaurants to a "Shack Track" model that includes drive-thru lanes and walkup windows, and Chipotle plans to pivot its entire portfolio to its mobile-drive thru Chipotlane formats. Going forward, 60% of Chipotle's restaurants will feature the drive-thru, which drive 5% to 10% higher sales than a standard format.