Taco Bell unveils new design with more drive-thrus as pandemic permanently shifts how we order

Key Points
  • Taco Bell's latest restaurant design includes two drive-thru lanes, pickup shelves, curbside pickup and more technology in the kitchen.
  • The format is intended to push customers to order their food ahead and keep drive-thru lines short.
  • Two company-owned locations with the new design are expected to open in the first three months of 2021.
A rendering of Taco Bell's Go Mobile restaurant design
Source: Taco Bell

Taco Bell unveiled its latest restaurant design on Thursday, intended to push customers to order their nachos and burritos ahead and keep drive-thru lines short as the coronavirus pandemic leaves lasting marks on consumer behavior.

The pandemic has prompted many restaurant chains, including Starbucks, Shake Shack and Chipotle Mexican Grill, to rethink their designs or accelerate changes already in the works.

Surging use of drive-thru lanes, online ordering and delivery in recent months has pressured operations. In Taco Bell's second quarter, it served an additional 4.8 million cars through drive-thru lanes compared with a year earlier, even as its same-store sales declined 8%.

The Yum Brands chain's newest design includes two drive-thru lanes, one of which will be for picking up orders made through its mobile app, following a trend set by Chipotle with its "Chipotlanes."

"We have a lot of franchisees interested in expanding drive-thru capacity," Taco Bell Global Chief Operating Officer Mike Grams said.

The new "Go Mobile" design also features parking spots designated for contactless curbside pickup and indoor shelves for claiming digital orders. The size of the dining rooms will vary in size depending on the market.

A rendering of a Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant
Source: Taco Bell

But it's not just Taco Bell's exterior and dining rooms that will see some changes. Its kitchens will be revamped with technology that tells workers the fastest way to make the order and communicates to the customer the easiest way to pick up the food. Grams compared it to air traffic control at an airport.

"The customer still has control, but we help them," he said.

Customers who choose the suggested method for pickup will rack up more points in Taco Bell's loyalty program.

Two new company-owned locations with the dual drive-thru lanes, high-tech kitchens and other novelties are slated to open in the first three months of 2021. Grams said Taco Bell is planning how to retrofit existing restaurants into the new design and working with franchisees on building their own versions.

"Anywhere where you have cars, vehicles, delivery access — these restaurants will play both the suburban and city environment," Grams said.

The chain will incorporate the Go Mobile design at traditional Taco Bell locations, as well as its smaller urban restaurants and more upscale Cantinas.

Yum Brands CEO on how the company is rebounding from pandemic lockdowns
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