QSR brand Chipotle is a known leader in the restaurant industry’s current transition from dining room to off-premises formats, but the company has for the most part been quiet in the conversation around ghost kitchens. Up to now, that is. The company today revealed its Chipotle Digital Kitchen a pickup- and delivery-only restaurant that is essentially its own homegrown take on the ghost kitchen concept.
The new restaurant, located in Highland Falls, New York, will open this coming Saturday (Nov. 14). Chipotle said in today’s press release that the Digital Kitchen is meant to drive business in “non-traditional locations” such as dense urban centers that can’t hold a full-service restaurant.
While the restaurant does feature a small lobby with a few seats, there is no assembly line from which to order food and no cashier to ring orders up. Instead, customers must place orders digitally via the Chipotle app or website, or through a third-party delivery platform. Guests retrieve their orders from the aforementioned lobby that is “designed to include all of the sounds, smells and kitchen views of a traditional Chipotle restaurant.” The location can also fulfill larger catering orders.
Chipotle’s news comes the same week McDonald’s unveiled plans for its own to-go-centric store format that will consist of a kitchen surrounded by drive-thru lanes and parking spaces for curbside pickup. Since Chipotle’s Digital Kitchen is, initially, at least, focused on urban settings with space limitations, it does not accommodate a drive-thru lane. That said, the company has been very public about its intentions to incorporate that format into its stores, and today’s release notes that the new store format “allows for flexibility with future locations.” Drive-thru may not be part of this first location, but it’s undoubtedly on the way as the company opens more of these new store concepts.
With the future of the dining room still very much unknown, there’s something of a mass exodus from that format happening among well-known quick-service brands. Burger King, Wendy’s, Dunkin’, Popeye’s, and Tim Horton’s are just a few names on the growing list of restaurants changing up their store formats.
Chipotle has been trekking towards this shift for some time. In December of 2019, the company announced a few different store format designs for to-go, drive-thru, and delivery orders.
Make sure to join The Spoon’s Ghost Kitchen Deep Dive event on December 9th. Register here!