Taco Bell just pushed to the front of the race for quick service restaurants embracing the rise of contactless food service. First announced in 2021, its “Taco Bell Defy” restaurant concept broke ground in Summer 2021 and just opened to the public in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
It is no secret that restaurants have been shifting more-and-more to a “dining-room-less” layout. This new concept by Taco Bell and Border Foods, not only embraced that shift, but brought it to reality. The restaurant is two-stories, with a four-lane drive-thru underneath. The second floor kitchen is staffed by employees who prepare the food; essentially functioning like a ghost kitchen. The contactless experience is powered by digital check-in screens for mobile order customers’ unique QR codes, and two-way audio and video for customers to communicate with team members on the second floor.
Taco Bell Defy, has 4 drive-thru lanes. 3 of the 4 lanes (labeled “Mobile Pickup”) are intended for pre-orders with the Taco Bell App and delivery drivers picking up for a third-party food delivery app. 1 of the 4 lanes will be reserved for traditional drive-thru where you can order through a speaker. Not to exclude any patrons, they also included an in-store ordering lobby with kiosks to place orders on. However, there is no dine-in seating.
In the drive-thru, customers pick up their food by pulling up underneath the building and “food elevators” lower the food down from the second-floor food prep area, to the street-level drive-thru. The clear cover on the tube-shaped elevator then opens, and you can take your food out. This contactless proprietary lift system was developed by Minneapolis-based Vertical Works Inc.
Aside from the cool-factor, the operators appear to be making a push for improving the consumer experience by reducing the time it takes to place an order and receive your food. Mike Grams, Taco Bell President and Global COO expanded on this topic further by saying “Taco Bell Defy is an incredible innovation for our brand, and one that’s meeting our consumer in a really unique way. For decades we’ve been committed to providing a fast, safe and friendly drive-thru experience; now with our bold goal of creating a 2 minute or less drive-thru experience for customers of this concept, Taco Bell Defy is the future.”
Renting commercial retail space to restaurants has been a long-time tool for property operators to drive traffic to a multi-tenant retail property. Common examples have been an out parcel ground-lease to a McDonalds on the edge of a shopping center parking lot and a small retail space lease to a Subway. Commercial real estate investors should pay close attention to this news. Although it is only a concept for now, it shows the direction of where major quick-service restaurant franchises want to take the industry, and how commercial real estate landlords can accommodate.