Why Every Restaurant Is Morphing Into a Drive-Thru

Thanks to the pandemic, restaurants from Starbucks to Shake Shack want to make it easier to pick up fast food from your car

Photo illustration, source: Jason Whitman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

74%: That’s the percentage of Americans surveyed who said they had visited drive-thrus at fast-food restaurants during the pandemic either the same amount or more often than usual, according to a survey by location technology company Bluedot. Given the risks that indoor dining poses for the spread of the coronavirus, drive-thrus seem to be the ideally designed solution for picking up your burger and fries with a minimal amount of human contact.

Fast Company reports that fast-food chains have noticed this trend and are racing to set up and upgrade drive-thrus to cater to more customers who want to get their calorie fix without leaving their car. Shake Shack is introducing its first drive-thru next year, and Chipotle, which avoided the drive-thru model for decades, opened its 100th “Chipotlane” in August, and plans to retrofit older stores with drive-thru windows wherever possible. Taco Bell has been a drive-thru friendly chain for years, but is now doubling down on drive-thrus, upgrading its drive-thru locations with a mobile pickup lane for a speedier, more seamless experience.

Starbucks is determined not to be left behind. As Steve LeVine wrote in Marker this July, after the pandemic hit, the coffee chain pivoted hard, away from its business model of drawing customers in with large, inviting spaces with free Wi-Fi toward one that emphasized drive-thrus and walk-up windows. The chain plans to open hundreds of locations that lack seating altogether.

While Doordash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub all fight for a bigger slice of the incredibly low-margin business of delivering food to your door, chain restaurants seem happy to have you drive up to their window and get it.

Which drive-thru chain will be the first to introduce a bike lane?

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