Chick-fil-A Tests Automated Concepts With No Dining Rooms

Chick-fil-A Drive Thru

An Elevated Drive-Thru Prototype and a Pick-Up-Only Model Will Debut in 2024

Chick-fil-A is trying out two restaurant concepts that have no dining rooms. One has four drive-thru lanes. The other handles only mobile-placed pick-up orders that are given to pedestrians. Both concepts are scheduled for full-fledged grand openings next year.

The first pick-up-only Chick-fil-A will debut in New York City. Its design is tailored for areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, making it perfect for the Big Apple. An employee hands customers their food.  

Photos: Chick-fil-A

Four-Lane Dive-Thru 

The drive-thru-on-steroids restaurant model will launch in the Atlanta area. At this restaurant, customers may order in two ways. One option is advance ordering via Chick-fil-A’s app. These meals are handed to diners by an employee while they’re in one of two lanes reserved for mobile orders. Customers also may order the traditional way from one of the other two drive-thru lanes, with food given to them through car windows as usual. 

The four-lane drive-thru model’s kitchen, which is above the drive-thru lanes, is about double the typical size, according to CNN Business. The four lanes can handle about 75 cars, USA Today reported. 

An overhead conveyor belt, which has chutes down the sides, moves orders out of the big kitchen, Chick-fil-A said in a news release. With the brand’s mobile app, the food’s freshness is assured because it goes to the kitchen when customers enter one of the two dedicated mobile order lanes, according to USA Today.

Other Brands’ Automation

This delivery system is similar to some that are already in use by other restaurants. McDonald’s has tested a no-human-to-human-contact conveyor belt delivery system at a Fort Worth, Texas-area   location; Taco Bell’s Defy store model, also with four drive-thru lanes, sends food down a tube to customers waiting in their vehicles. Wendy’s is delving even further into faceless automation by testing an artificial intelligence chatbot to take orders from drive-through customers.

Several restaurants such as a San Diego Jack in the Box and a West Coast CaliBurger have robot fry cooks that undertake one of the most unpleasant tasks in the fast-food world. The mechanized arm-like device can simultaneously cook various fried foods to just-right perfection.

Factors Fueling Automation

All of these innovations are designed to live up to the restaurants’ specialty: FAST food. Brands don’t want to irritate in-a-hurry, hungry clientele with backed-up drive-thru lanes or dining rooms that are congested with customers picking up takeout orders and getting in the way of people who are dining in. Restaurant owners want food prepared properly and delivered promptly.

Mobile takeout orders that require no dining rooms are also driving innovation. Digital ordering via apps and restaurant websites came into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic when Americans followed epidemiologists’ advice to minimize person-to-person contact. Fast-food brands promoted their apps in various ways, including rewards bestowed through loyalty programs, and the convenience and perks have clicked with consumers. 

Even though Covid fears have eased substantially, digital ordering is clearly here to stay. As a result, fast-food brands continue to refine their systems to please their clientele with ultra-quick service and increased accuracy in meal and beverage orders. Automated processes also will reduce labor costs over the long haul.

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Mary Vinnedge is an award-winning journalist who has served as editor in chief, managing editor and senior editor at national and regional publications, including SUCCESS and Design NJ magazines. She also held reporting and editing roles at The Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer newspapers.

Before Mary began covering franchise news and trends as a staff writer for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine, she developed articles on topics ranging from lifestyle, education, health and science to home projects, horticulture, gardening, interior design and architecture. These articles included her reporting on academic news at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, when Mary worked in the marketing department of the Texas A&M Foundation. She continues to be a news junkie and subscribes to several publications.

Today Mary and her husband are empty nesters living on Galveston Island near Houston. The couple’s blended family – scattered around the United States – includes five children, four grandchildren and two very spoiled, very barky miniature schnauzer rescues.
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