Shake Shack said on its earnings call yesterday that it will start opening restaurants with drive-thrus, with the first of them slated to open in 2021. The chain didn’t name a location, though CEO Randy Garutti said on the call the chain plans ”to lead with traditional suburban high-traffic quarters.”
This is pivot for Shake Shack, a New York City-based chain that’s historically served urban settings. And unsurprisingly, the move is largely in response to the pandemic’s effect on in-house restaurant dining. Garutti said on the call that fewer than half of all Shake Shack’s have opened their dining rooms, and that while urban Shacks have been heavily impacted by social distancing restrictions, suburban locations are recovering faster.
The company released a rendering of the new drive-thrus (see above) that suggests these would have dedicated lanes for mobile orders as well as traditional ones. It’s a strategy already in use by chains like Dunkin’ and Chipotle.
Shake Shack had a 49 percent nosedive in same stores sales for the second quarter, though that number is slowly improving, the company said. Digital and off-premises are a big reason the figure wasn’t lower.
And drive-thru lanes are just one piece of that off-premises strategy. On the call, Garutti highlighted the brand’s recent efforts, which include curbside pickup, Shack Tracks, a ghost kitchen in the U.K., and increased focus on digital ordering. In the second quarter, sales through the brand’s own app “more than tripled” compared to the same period last year.
Perhaps most important, Shake Shack will start offering direct delivery via its own digital properties. Garutti plainly stated that the motivation behind this move is “keeping guests within our native infrastructure and deepening our ability to connect directly with them over time.”
Direct delivery is becoming an increasingly important part of major restaurant chains’ digital arsenal, and is already in use by Panda Express, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and others. The benefits of direct delivery, where orders go straight to a restaurant’s own app, rather than getting funneled through a third-party delivery app, are obvious. Restaurants pay lower commission fees, since third parties like Uber Eats are only delivering the food, not processing the order. And brands retain valuable customer data they would otherwise not be able to access.
None of Shake Shack’s announcements this week are particularly eyebrow raising, which is in itself an important point. Every day, off-premises gets further entrenched in consumers’ minds as the de facto restaurant format for quick service and fast casual. Adding drive-thru or curbside, doubling down on digital, and exploring direct delivery are quickly becoming the standard for those chains that can afford them. Those standards were emerging long before the pandemic arrived, and will exist long after it leaves.