4 laid-back, fast-paced drive-thru innovations in Q1

Casual and casual fast food chains are proving that drive-thru isn’t just a boon for fast food restaurants.

Cash-out counters 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% increase in sales compared to a traditional restaurant. Even Applebee, who tested a digital storefront in 2021plans to expand this format at 15 locations this year.

The pandemic has also proven that delivery service can fuel growth in a tough economic environment, pushing several chains to explore drive-thru pickup windows and drive-thru-only formats for the first time.

Check out the latest channels exploring drive-thru formats below:

At Jimmy John’s

Permission granted by Jimmy John’s

Sandwich chain Inspire Brands opened its first drive-thru only restaurant in Bartow, Florida in February. The format has two lanes, one of which is designated for picking up mobile and online orders. The restaurant also offers take-out lockers for customers who want a contactless experience when taking their orders online. Although Jimmy John’s has several drive-thrus in its portfolio, it is the first to not have a dining room.

Famous Dave

Permission granted by Famous Dave’s

The 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 famous traditional 6,500 square foot Dave’s and will aim to serve customers in less than four minutes, CEO Jeff Crivello previously said Restaurant Dive. The franchise 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 also trialled frontline service, dubbed “Quick ‘Que,” in Las Vegas and Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

smoked bones

Permission granted by Smokey Bones

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 operate in the same way as a traditional drive-thru and will feature digital order boards, digital order confirmation, a drive-thru window for express menu pickup, and parking spaces for customers ordering off of its “Made Fresh For You” menu. The company, which launched two digital-only brands, The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience, in 2019, will also offer these menus through the drive-thru.


Courtesy of Sweetgreen

The fast casual salad chain plans to open its first drive-thru pickup window, also known as “Sweetlane,” in Schaumburg, Ill., next year, the company announced in March. The Sweetlane will be available to customers who place their orders online in advance. Guests will also be able to watch staff prepare salads through a viewing window while they wait in their car to pick up their meals. The opening date is yet to be determined.

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