Diners can’t enter this new Chipotle location

Later this month, the fast casual plans to open its first Chipotlane Digital Kitchen with an order-ahead drive-thru and walk-up window but no indoor access for customers.
Chipotlane Digital Kitchen
Photo courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill is opening its first pickup- and delivery-only restaurant, without a dining area or customer-facing front line, later this month in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the fast casual announced Thursday.

The new prototype, dubbed the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen, is a significant move for the chain, which has seen explosive growth in its digital business during the pandemic.

The small-footprint store will feature an order-ahead pickup lane, as well as a walk-up window and patio seating.

Little more than a year ago, Chipotle opened its first Digital Kitchen in Highland Falls, N.Y. In that unit, diners can place digital orders from inside a lobby area “with the sounds, smells and kitchen views of a traditional Chipotle restaurant,” a spokeswoman said via email.

The new Chipotlane Digital Kitchen, though, has no inside access for customers.

“Chipotlanes are a key growth strategy for the brand,” said Tabassum Zalotrawala, Chipotle’s chief development officer, in a statement. “Our portfolio of approximately 300 Chipotlanes perform with the highest margins across the board, so we continue to evolve our restaurant design with formats such as the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen to best suit our growing digital business.”

Chipotle introduced Chipotlanes early in 2018 and quickly found them to be a major growth driver, with significantly higher check averages than other ordering channels and no potential margin hit from third-party delivery. The chain has been building the drive-thrus rapidly, adding about 200 of them in in the last 18 months. Of the 41 new locations opened during Q3, 88% included a Chipotlane, the chain reported in October.

CEO Brian Niccol said at the time that the chain was testing small-footprint stores with drive-thrus to fortress other high-volume Chipotle locations and give diners another access point.

New restaurants with Chipotlanes open with about 15% higher sales compared to restaurants without drive-thrus opened during the same period, the company said.

The pandemic made consumers more accustomed to ordering via digital channels for takeout and delivery. In the past year, a number of chains have debuted prototypes without dining rooms or with greatly diminished seating areas.

Portillo’s, known for its sprawling dining rooms, said last month that it intends to shrink its dining areas going forward to follow consumer trends. The fast casual plans to open a pick-up-only location this winter with three drive-thrus but no indoor dining area.

Shake Shack, which was largely focused on the in-store experience before the pandemic, recently opened its first drive-thru and has plans to open 10 more next year.

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