The Big Change That Will Be Coming To New Chipotle Locations

On November 11, Chipotle announced in a news release that it will launch its first digital-only branch outside of West Point in Highland Falls, New York. The restaurant, which will be called Chipotle Digital Kitchen, will open on November 14 for pick-up and delivery only.

"With digital sales tripling year over year last quarter," Curt Garner, Chief Technology Officer of Chipotle, said, "consumers are demanding more digital access than ever before so we're constantly exploring new ways to enhance the experience for our guests." To facilitate this, the Chipotle Digital Kitchen will only accept orders via, its app, or a third-party website. Customers will then arrive at the Digital Kitchen to pick up their food in the lobby. 

This is also occurring a bit over a week after Brian Niccol, Chipotle's chief executive officer, explained to Bloomberg that the pandemic has forced them to reduce store hours or, in worse case scenarios, temporarily close their stores. In addition to the obvious concerns about COVID, the Digital Kitchen concept allows Chipotle to expand their reach into more expensive real estate by filling areas a normal restaurant would not fit with their smaller model.

The Chipotle Digital Kitchen serves as the logical counterpart to the other model they have been rolling out lately: the Chipotlane, a drive-thru lane that functions purely through the Chipotle app. While indoor seating for fast casual franchises like Chipotle may make a return with COVID's ebbing, these newer models will probably dictate Chipotle's future.

Chipotle welcomes the urban drive-thru

Chipotle's Digital Kitchen marks a part of a wider trend in the industry. Last week, Forbes reported that Wendy's was looking at its own version of the drive-thru only restaurant. That Chipotle, Wendy's, and other chains are re-examining their drive-thru is a natural reaction to the available technology and, to a lesser extent, the coronavirus.

In October, Nation's Restaurant News reported even though fast-food chains see a majority of their sales come in from their drive-thru, they have largely let them stagnate until mobile phone technology made contactless ordering and pick-up the most efficient method to serve food. "Drive thru and mobile are here to stay," Lisa van Kesteren, CEO of SeeLevel HX, told Nation's Restaurant News.

COVID simply gave impetus to a pre-existing trend. As the International Business Times noted in July, Chipotle had seen an increase of 80 percent in its digital sales due to the need for social distancing. So, they decided to continue their push into the Chipotlanes with a plan to make 60 percent of their new restaurants include one. However, as anyone who has gone to an urban fast food franchise could probably guess, drive-thrus aren't an option. Only pick-up and delivery are. Because the pandemic has pick-up and delivery as our only options, we will become accustomed to these models by its end. After COVID, QSR suspects that such contactless and off-premise eating might be the future of chains like Chipotle.