Drive-thrus are getting larger and larger with no end in sight

7-Eleven Drive-thru store
Drive-thru store. 7-Eleven
  • Taco Bell just announced plans for a four-lane drive-thru slated for summer 2022.
  • Competing chains are already adding lanes to drive-thrus, Taco Bell just upped the ante.
  • Drive-thrus became crucial to fast food during the pandemic, and chains continue to invest in them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Taco Bell just released plans for a four-lane drive-thru set to open next summer, and it’s making the inevitable clear: drive-thrus are just going to keep getting bigger.

The new drive-thru concept will be owned by one of the biggest Taco Bell franchisees in the country, with three lanes dedicated to mobile orders alongside a fourth, traditional lane. A contactless food delivery system that “defies gravity” will transport orders from the kitchen above down to cars through a lift system.

Taco Bell drive-thru concept
‘s new concept is set to open in summer 2022. Taco Bell

The concept immediately inspired memes and comparisons. So far, it’s been compared to an EZ Pass highway toll booth, a bank, and even the color scheme from the Ryan Gosling movie “Drive.” The comparisons are funny, and frankly the drive-thru does look like a bank, but the concept itself is less ridiculous than it seems at first.

Looking back, drive-thrus getting bigger seems inevitable. Back in 2019 fast food brands ramped up a kind of drive-thru arms race; McDonald’s rolled out new technology to decrease wait times, while traditionally drive-thru-less chains like Chipotle ramped up Chipotlanes. At the same time, Starbucks and Dunkin’ were each experimenting with drive-thru pickup for mobile orders.

The pandemic sped everything up. Suddenly drive-thrus weren’t just a way to do business, they were the primary way customers felt safe visiting restaurants amid closed dining rooms and health concerns. Typically, drive-thrus account for 70% of sales at fast-food chains. But in 2020 chains like Wendy’s and McDonald’s said it was closer to 90%.

To accommodate growing drive-thru traffic, they simply had to get. bigger. Chick-fil-A has been opening double-lane drive-thrus across the country. Starbucks has followed this example as part of its initiative to close lower-performing stores and focusing on mobile and drive-thru locations. The coffee chain has started installing double lanes, too.

McDonald's drive-thru review

McDonald’s, which already has some double-lane drive-thrus, also released a concept for on-the-go stores focused on takeout and delivery orders, with extra lanes for customers who ordered through the app. Like the Taco Bell concept, McDonald’s suggested some orders would even be delivered by conveyor belts.

Shake shack drive thru

Shake Shack’s design for its first-ever drive-thrus, planned to open sometime in 2022, skips the traditional single lane step altogether. Instead, the burger chain is jumping right into the multi-lane designs that are growing more popular in the industry, with three lanes to accommodate mobile and on-site orders.

“Why not test out something like this? They can learn an awful lot, and maybe this is the way the market will trend in the long run,” Mark Kalinowski, founder of Kalinowski Equity Research, told Insider. “It’s a futuristic way of thinking, and restaurants are getting more willing to be a little different.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and its variants are still ongoing, but many places in the US have attempted to return to normal life. The reign of drive-thrus is nowhere near over, though, as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Taco Bell all emphasized how crucial they are to business in just the last few weeks.

Americans have rediscovered their love of drive-thrus, and they’re not going back.

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