Sweetgreen officially opens its long-awaited first drive-thru Sweetlane location in Schaumberg, Ill., on Tuesday, joining a growing number of fast-casual and casual-dining concepts to offer the convenience-forward format once limited to QSR.
At a Sweetlane, guests can order ahead via the chain’s app or website and choose “sweetlane” to pick up. The unit allows guests in cars to watch team members prepare meals through an observation window, but customers also have the option of walking into the unit to order or dine in.
The move comes as Sweetgreen pushes into the Midwest for expansion, targeting suburban neighborhoods. According to internal research, 52% of suburban customers find it challenging to find fresh, quality food to order to-go, the company said.
“Innovation is in the Sweetgreen DNA, and meeting customers where they are is the key to our brand mission; connecting people to real food,” said Jonathan Neman, Sweetgreen’s CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “We hope this new experience provides ease and accessibility for the community craving deliciously fresh and healthy plant-forward food.”
Meeting customers where they are is also a brand mission of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has been growing drive-thru locations—dubbed Chipotlanes—at a rapid clip. The chain expects to open 255 to 285 units this year, about 80% with a Chipotlane.
For Sweetgreen, the Sweetlane launch is yet another format in the 176-unit brand’s growing portfolio.
Earlier this month, the chain opened its first pickup-only unit in Washington, D.C., with no dine-in seating (other than a patio) and no customer-facing makeline.
Next year, the chain is planning to open two fully automated locations using the Spyce technology acquired in 2021.
These formats are fueled in part by Sweetgreen’s success building the digital side of its business, Neman said in the third-quarter call with investors last week.
During COVID, he said, “we got very good at digital acquisition. So digital became a primary acquisition driver for us.”
For opening week, guests will be automatically entered in a sweepstakes to win $10,000 in Sweetgreen credit. And Sweetlane customers will receive a free custom car air freshener, while supplies last.
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