I tried Taco Bell and Chipotle’s drive-thrus, and they’re two totally different takes on quick service Mexican food

taco bell drive thru
A Taco Bell employee delivers an order to a customer at the drive-up window of the restaurant on March 31, 2020.

  • I visited Taco Bell and Chipotle to compare their drive-thrus.
  • Though both sell Mexican food, they have totally different price points and wait times.
  • Taco Bell has a classic drive-thru setup, while Chipotle’s emphasizes mobile orders.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Drive-thrus have become more important than ever for fast food and fast casual restaurants because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taco Bell

Fast-food chains have invested in drive-thru technology over the last few years, especially as customers showed that they prefer drive-thrus to other ways of ordering.

Chipotlane

I visited Taco Bell and Chipotle to see two sides of the very different Mexican-American food drive-thru experience.

taco bell

First up, Taco Bell has a classic drive-thru in the style of McDonald’s and other seasoned chains with a line, menu board, and windows for payment and getting food.

Taco Bell drive thru

Taco Bell’s app is easy to use, with the menu broken down into easily-understood categories. It is also searchable.

Taco Bell mobile ordering app

It also makes it easy to customize every item on the menu, which is a key part of the chain’s appeal.

Taco Bell menu app customization options

Vegetarians tend to like Taco Bell for the many meatless and vegan options, and the app smartly highlights those items.

Taco Bell mobile ordering app

Taco Bell has prioritized its drive-thrus over the past year and made some major changes as a result.

Taco Bell drive thru

To some customers’ dismay, last year the chain cut over a dozen items, including potatoes, to shorten wait times.

taco bell

Source: Insider

The cuts paid off – in the third quarter of 2020, Taco Bell served 30 million more customers than in all of 2019, and each order was completed 17 seconds faster.

Taco Bell drive thru

Source: Insider

I saw those changes firsthand during my Taco Bell visit. Though the line was at least ten cars long, I gave the name for my mobile order at the speaker and was holding my food in about five minutes.

Taco Bell drive thru

The chain has plans to further improve drive-thrus, with double lanes for mobile orders and bellhops to take orders on iPads. Both of these steps resemble Chick-fil-A’s setup and have been implemented at chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Taco Bell Go Mobile
Three Taco Bells in Oklahoma and Texas have added dual drive-thru lanes as part of the new Go Mobile format.

Source: Insider

Part of Taco Bell’s speed and efficiency is likely due to its embrace of drive-thrus and mobile orders.

Taco Bell drive thru

Every Taco Bell has two food assembly lines, one for the drive-thru and one for the inside counter.

Taco Bell drive thru

Source: NBC

Trimming down menus help workers keep both lines moving faster.

Taco Bell drive thru

Taco Bell doesn’t make many claims about nutrition or authenticity, but the drive-thru experience is reliably fast and delicious.

Taco Bell drive thru

I also tried out Chipotle’s “Chipotlane” drive-thru to compare.

Chipotle drive-thru

At Chipotle, I also ordered through the app, though this time I didn’t have a choice. Chipotlanes exclusively serve mobile orders.

Chipotle app mobile ordering

The app makes it easy to find a restaurant to order from, and it helpfully displays which ones are Chipotlanes.

Chipotle app mobile ordering

Chipotle has been working on Chipotlanes for a few years, although they’re getting more investment thanks to the pandemic.

Chipotle drive-thru

By early 2019, Chipotle had 10 US Chipotlanes, and executives told Insider that they planned to open dozens more, while also investing in digital ordering.

Chipotle drive-thru

Source: Insider

Chipotle’s digital sales exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, making up more than half of sales in 2020. For Chipotle, more so than for other brands, digital and drive-thru sales are completely tied together, because that’s the only way to order at a Chipotlane.

Chipotle drive-thru

Source: Insider

The app makes it easy to choose a dish and chose your protein, rice, and other options in the same order that you would inside the store.

Chipotle app mobile ordering

After ordering, you select a window of when to pick up your food. The windows are at least 20 minutes out in my experience.

Chipotle
Chipotle app.

The Chipotlane has no speaker or alternate windows. You just drive up to the single window and give the name associated with your order.

Chipotle drive-thru

If you go to the window too early, you might be told to come back in five minutes, which was what happened to me.

Chipotlane
Chipotlane.

Like Taco Bell, Chipotle works on an assembly line model, where customers move down the line of ingredients to choose what they want in a burrito or bowl. Chipotle locations also run a second assembly line behind the scenes dubbed the “digital make line.”

Chipotle

Source: Insider

Unlike Taco Bell, though, speed does not seem to be the top priority at Chipotle.

Chipotle Burrito

My food was good, and it was ready at the time the app said it would be.

Chipotle drive-thru

The different ordering styles show how Chipotle and Taco Bell are differentiating themselves in the drive-thru Mexican food space.

Chipotle Burrito

You can go into nearly any Taco Bell and leave with a combination of dozens of different menu items in under ten minutes. It doesn’t take planning ahead or much money – it’s an easy lunch or dinner most people can agree on.

Taco Bell

At Chipotle, on the other hand, it’s more of a commitment. A Chipotle order typically means 10 to 20 minutes spent in line, or a mobile order at least 20 minutes ahead of time.

Chipotle

Even in the drive-thru, Chipotle seems to see itself as a more upscale destination compared to Taco Bell, and assumes customers will be willing to wait for that experience.

Chipotle
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Restaurants are buying less food than before the pandemic as they struggle to stay afloat

indoor  dining nyc
A waiter delivers food to a table at Bottino Restaurant in Chelsea as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on October 1, 2020 in New York.

  • Spending levels at 40,000 restaurants nationwide dropped significantly last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Restaurants in some states, including Wyoming and Wisconsin, had spending levels similar to those before the pandemic.
  • Restaurant operators were spending more on carryout boxes and bags as the demand for takeout and delivery increased during COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Restaurants nationwide spent significantly less on food and other supplies last year as the coronavirus pandemic forced many eateries to temporarily shut down and host fewer in-store customers, new data shows. 

Around 40,000 restaurants nationwide spent 24.5% less on food and other items per quarter in 2020 than than they did prior to the pandemic, according to a report by Buyers Edge Platform, a digital procurement network for foodservice that tracked and analyzed restaurant purchases. 

Restaurants spent $2,700 each week purchasing food and products from their suppliers during the start of the pandemic last spring, down from $5,220 per week in the months prior.

Spending on food and supplies was at its lowest level during the week ending March 22, falling 67.5%, as stay-home orders were enacted and restaurants temporarily closed to in-person dining, leading to mass layoffs. By the end of 2020, there had been a rebound, with restaurants spending $4,531 per week on food orders and other items.

Spending levels had dropped to around 30% by the start of 2021, as COVID-19 cases surged across the country. 

“The real challenge for operators was the uncertainty of managing labor and operating expenses,” said John Davie, CEO of Buyers Edge Platform in the report. 

Read More: 85% of independent restaurants may go out of business by the end of 2020, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition

The report also analyzed the purchasing habits of 5,000 restaurants in ten states experiencing the highest drops in spending levels, including independent restaurants and large chains.

Buyers Edge Platform said the steepest declines were in Nevada and Hawaii, two states whose economies heavily rely on hospitality. Average weekly food orders during the pandemic dropped 65.1% in Nevada and around 59% in Hawaii.

Order levels also fell in Washington by around 41%, Vermont by 40.1%, Connecticut by 35.8%, and Colorado by 33.8%, Arizona by 32.5%, Illinois by 31.8%, New Hampshire by around 31%, and Alaska by 30.3%. 

Read More: New Trump rule could cost waiters more than $700 million in lost wages by allowing employers to take more of their tips to pay other workers

Restaurants’ spending levels dropped due to the in-door dining restrictions and job losses across the foodservice industry during the pandemic, according to the digital procurement network. Chain restaurants combined have permanently closed more than 1,500 locations since the pandemic began.

Buyers Edge Platform said that the numbers slowly improved and orders were slightly exceeding pre-pandemic levels as dining restrictions loosened last year, but those levels dropped again as restrictions went back into place.

Read More: These 38 retailers and restaurant companies have filed for bankruptcy or liquidation in 2020

Restaurants in Wisconsin, Wyoming, and South Carolina ordered more food, however. The average weekly restaurant orders during the pandemic were 1.8% higher in Wisconsin, 4.2% in Wyoming, and 7% higher in South Carolina compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Restaurants were stranded with a stock of food in their refrigerators in March that they were unable to profit from as bills piled up, according to Davie. Some restaurants kept their staff on payroll for longer than they needed because owners found it difficult to navigate the Payroll Protection Program, part of a federal relief package for business owners.

Restaurant operators also changed their buying habits as they focused on obtaining certain products during the pandemic. Orders for frozen dessert products increased 145%, but orders for hotel products fell 69% and slumped 57% for fresh fish and frozen crab meat orders. Pen orders also declined by 67% as in-person dining that involved in-person check-signing decreased.

Read More: 12 restaurant chains have filed for bankruptcy in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic

The demand for carryout boxes and bags increased during the pandemic, according to the analysis, as consumers were heavily relying on takeout and food delivery. 

During the period between February and December of 2020, Restaurants’ orders of disposable bags soared 115%, while orders for disposable boxes increased 114% and disposable lid orders spiked 96%.

Additionally, orders for health and food safety products increased by 81% during the same period.

In December, a new rule was rolled out that allows restaurants to pull tips from their waitstaff to pay cooks and other employees. The 148-page regulation published by the Department of Labor is expanding on employers’ ability to pool tips and share them among employees who usually receive them.

Read the original article on Business Insider