Drive-thrus are going to look a lot different in 2021

Fast food is going minimalist.


September 11, 2020

Is it a bird? A plane? No, sorry, it’s just the Burger King drive-thru’s new floating kitchen.

With drive-thru visits up 26% this past April through June, several fast food chains are rethinking their approach.

Starting next year, Burger King, Starbucks, Shake Shack, and Chipotle are all giving their drive-thrus a tech makeover. That means more lanes, less sit-down space, and the possibility that your next Impossible Whopper might be grilled and delivered from above your car.

Drive-thrus are all about minimalism now

Though drive-thus claim to be all about the ease, they aren’t getting any faster: drive-thru wait time has gone up 20 seconds YoY.

Some of the chains’ proposed drive-thru changes are on the back end:

  • Taco Bell is axing complicated items, like the 7-Layer Burrito.
  • Starbucks is testing an AI tool called DeepBrew to streamline orders.

But the biggest change may be drive-thru menus

Companies like McDonald’s are infusing those hulking menu screens with responsive AI.

If the weather is freezing, for instance, you may see hot chocolate getting a top slot. Or if egg McMuffins are running low, they’ll disappear from the menu board entirely.

But others are ditching menus altogether. The way Taco Bell envisions it, a team of roving sales representatives will come to your car to take your order as soon as you pull up.

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