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Have kids, will drive thru

Amen, sister! That was my reaction when I read a recent post on the Technomic blog recapping the findings from its Consumer Brand Metrics program. Asked what factors are important in selecting a fast-casual restaurant to visit, consumers answered, not surprisingly, speed (90 percent) and convenient locations (89 percent).

That’s all well and good. But the stat that elicited high-fives from this mom of two was the one showing 35 percent of consumers said availability of a drive-thru was a deciding factor in choosing a fast-casual restaurant.

With apologies to the writer of the post, Darren Tristano (not a “sister,” of course), my rapture was directed at the moms—and dads—out there who would give their first born (kidding) to be able to roll up to a drive-thru window at Chipotle and commandeer a Kids’ Taco Kit or a small quesadilla (that off-menu parent favorite) without ever having to unbuckle their four-year old.

You see, I feel like I’m being a good mom when my kids, ages 4 and 9, say they’d prefer fresh lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole to the French fries, cheeseburger and toy being offered by the fast-food operation up the block. And yet, I’ll admit that when I’m in a hurry and making my fifth stop in two hours, preschooler in tow, the last thing I want to do is get out of the car and stand in line to buy a meal.

And that’s where the fast-food chain wins out. While moms may have a love-hate relationship with these operators, there’s no question they get us. And yes, I know there are “healthier” options available when I visit McDonald’s, Burger King and the like. But in that drive-thru my kids—and I’ll bet yours, too—want a toy and the burger we have to buy to get it.

This time last year, Chipotle Founder Steve Ells made news by entertaining the idea of adding some drive-thru windows at the 1,500-unit chain. After all, fast-casual icon Panera has had success with its drive-thrus and continues to add service windows in many new stores as space allows.

Analysts recommended caution in reaction to Ells announcement, warning that drive-through service could gum up the works at restaurants like Chipotle and chip away at its brand model of food made fresh, right in front of your eyes. “Pffftt,” I say. Speaking as a mom, I disagree. I’ve been in Chipotle. I get it. And I trust that the food you would hand me through the window, is prepared the same way as it would be if were standing in your line.

Time is a price I’m willing to pay for this convenience. I’m happy to spend the extra few minutes at the window, if it means my child can stay snug in his car seat, humming the Disney tunes that are keeping him happy at the moment.

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