Today, fast-casual brand Chipolte said it is celebrating the launch of its 100th Chipotlane, the chain’s version of a high-tech drive-thru, but there was much more to the announcement than marking that milestone. This latest Chipotlane comes at a time when the brand is shifting most of its focus to off-premises formats fueled by digital ordering. To that end, the chain said today that more than 60 percent of new stores it opens will focus on drive thru. We’re officially in the Chipotlane Era, folks.
Chipotlanes are built specifically to service customers placing orders digitally via the Chipotle app. A great piece from the RestaurantDive folks today notes that Chipotlane-equipped restaurants generally have sales that are 5–10 percent higher than other locations. In the same article, Scott Boatwright, Chipotle’s Chief Development Officer, said, “We’re really pivoting the entire portfolio to this Chipotlane concept.”
It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Chipotle is focused so intently on the drive-thru. Stay-at-home restrictions already pummeled the restaurant industry once, and there are many question marks around what this latest round of halted reopenings, and state-mandated shutdowns of restaurant dining rooms will do to business over the next few months.
But one thing that isn’t a question is the industry-wide shift to off-premises formats. It was already happening pre-pandmic, and in fact Chipotle recently had its best quarter ever for digital sales because it was already focused on building out more to-go-centric stores. Since then, Starbucks has said it is reformatting many of its traditional cafe-style stores to be to-go locations, and other major chains are likely to follow.
A big bonus of all this is that, for Chipotle at least, the shift to digital and off-premises is creating more jobs. In today’s announcement, the chain said it will hire as many as 10,000 new employees to assist with the fulfillment of these many Chipotlane orders to come.