Portillo’s plans to open a restaurant without a dining room

The new prototype, slated to open this winter in Joliet, Ill., will be the fast casual’s first to feature a triple drive-thru as it seeks to capitalize on demand for delivery and pickup orders.
Photo courtesy of Portillo's

Portillo’s is joining a growing number of limited-service chains that are experimenting with dining room-less restaurants.

The fast casual on Wednesday announced a new location called “Portillo’s Pick Up,” slated for Joliet, Ill., this winter that features three drive-thru lanes but no indoor seating area.

At 3,750-square-feet, the new design is about half the size of a traditional Portillo’s.

To say the chain, which specializes in Chicago fare like hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, is excited about having a pared-down prototype “is an understatement,” Randy Guse, Portillo’s vice president of real estate said.

“It opens up a lot of new avenues for us with a smaller footprint,” Guse said.

All of Portillo’s 68 current restaurants include drive-thrus, which gave the concept a major boost during the pandemic. And many of those units feature double drive-thrus. But the Joliet Portillo’s will be the chain's first with three drive-thru lanes.

Two of the lanes will function like a traditional drive-thru, while the third will be used as an order-ahead pickup lane, much like Chipotle Mexican Grill’s successful Chipotlanes. Portillo’s employees will ferry food out to cars in the digital pickup lane, Guse said.

“We have for a long time deployed team members outside to take orders,” he said. “That helps accelerate the throughput and reduce the time frame for our guests.”

The new restaurant, the chain’s first in Joliet, will also include a pickup area for orders placed on the chain’s app and website. It will also offer catering.

A Portillo’s without a dining room was discussed pre-pandemic, he said.

“But the pandemic did obviously accelerate our drive-thru and delivery business,” Guse said. “A lot of our restaurants were drive-thru and delivery-only for months … What we’re increasingly seeing is guests want to use us in different ways. This is an opportunity to serve our guests in ways we think our guests want to be served.”

The restaurant’s exterior will be decorated in a raceway theme, fitting for the chain’s speed and also for the well-known speedway track in Joliet.

“This new restaurant is unlike anything Portillo’s has ever done,” CEO Michael Osanloo said in a statement. “We’re bringing the inside out in Joliet.”

Construction has not started on the Joliet location just yet and there are no firm plans for more small-footprint restaurants, Guse said.

“We haven’t committed to any other locations for this at this point, but we are very excited about this,” he said.

Since the pandemic began, a number of restaurant chains have debuted prototypes that are focused on off-premise business.

Late last year, El Pollo Loco released a new store design that does not include a dining room, same for an express offering from seafood chain Captain D’s. Chipotle opened its first Digital Kitchen design in late 2020, which also does not have an indoor dining area.


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