McDonald’s is testing a new drive-thru concept in Texas

The burger giant is testing a small-format restaurant in Fort Worth. Its centerpiece is a conveyor system that delivers food to a mobile-order lane.
McDonald's small-format restaurant
McDonald's has opened a small-format restaurant in Texas with a conveyor-powered mobile order lane. / Photos courtesy of McDonald's.

Your next McDonald’s meal could be delivered through a conveyor belt.

The burger giant has opened a small-format restaurant in Fort Worth, Tex., that is designed to test various ideas for takeout customers, particularly those who order through digital channels.

It features what the company calls an Order Ahead Lane, which serves mobile-order customers their food through a conveyor system.

There are other options, too, including a pick-up shelf in the restaurant for customers who want to come in and get their takeout orders; designated spaces in and out of the restaurant for delivery drivers and self-order kiosks that accept both cash and credit. There is also a typical drive-thru lane, of course.

The concept is in a “test-and-learn” phase at a single unit. But it also represents a substantial change for McDonald’s, period.  

Check out McDonald's small-format restaurant

Video courtesy of McDonald's.

The company has focused mostly on developing its traditional restaurants with a drive-thru lane. Yet the shift toward more takeout since the pandemic has changed the equation.

Drive-thru grew to more than 70% of orders even before the pandemic, and now with the rise in mobile ordering and delivery, takeout represents somewhere around 90% of a typical McDonald’s location’s sales.

McDonald’s told investors in 2020 that it was planning just this sort of restaurant. “As our customers’ needs continue to change, we are committed to finding new ways to serve them faster than ever before,” Max Carmona, senior director, global design and restaurant development for McDonald’s, said in a statement.

McDonald’s is also jumping on board an increasingly crowded bandwagon. A huge number of restaurant chains have experimented with takeout-centric restaurants that reduce or even eliminate interior seating while providing more space for digital orders.

McDonald's small-format restaurant is geared for the on-the-go customer. 

Several have already gone further than McDonald’s and opened drive-thru-only units. Taco Bell opened one such location with four lanes and an elevator system in suburban Minneapolis. But companies like Taco John’s, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, Tim Hortons, Chick-fil-A and many others have opened such restaurants.

The McDonald’s location in Texas does have some interior seating but it is clearly aimed at that takeout customer. It was opened by local owner-operator Keith Vanecek.

It features a traditional drive-thru, along with a mobile order lane on the outside that is served by a conveyor that delivers customers’ food and beverages. That lane is targeted at mobile order customers who place their orders ahead of time.

The restaurant features technology that allows employees to start preparing customers’ orders when they get near the restaurant. The location is also designed to streamline operations. “The technology in this restaurant not only allows us to serve our customers in new, innovative ways, it gives our restaurant team the ability to concentrate more on order speed and accuracy,” Vanecek said in a statement.

Inside the restaurant are kiosks that take both cash and credit cards. That’s a notable change for the chain, which has used kiosks inside its restaurants since 2017. Yet most of those kiosks only accept credit cards, which can be a problem for a substantial portion of its customers, who only use cash.  

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