Taco Bell imagines post-COVID 'restaurant of the future' prioritizing digital, drive-in

Brooke DiPalma
·Associate Producer
·2 min read

Taco Bell (YUM) is doubling down on major trends amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the restaurant aiming to usher in the future of its restaurant designs and service delivery.

In plans unveiled on Tuesday, Taco Bell plans to bolster its investment in drive-thrus and "experiential to digital-forward elements" as the brand ramps up its plan to have 10,000 restaurants open globally this decade. 

"Our restaurant portfolio continues to rapidly evolve, striking a crucial balance between being technology-forward and social-oriented," Mike Grams, Taco Bell’s president and global COO said in a release.

In early 2021, the brand opened its first ever drive-thru Cantina in Danville, California. This location is also the first to feature an outdoor fire pit, game area and a full-bar offering. 

The company also shared its plans to rollout its "Go Mobile" concept nationwide, after beginning to test last year with "minimalistic physical spaces, dual drive-thru lanes, tablet ordering and curbside pickup and a concierge service of team members known as 'bellhops.'"

By this summer, the company said customers can expect to see up to 1,000 bellhops at U.S. locations to improve the speed of the drive-thru experience.

(Courtesy: Taco Bell)
Located in Danville, CA. Opened early 2021 by Taco Bell and franchisee Diversified Restaurant Group. (Courtesy: Taco Bell)

During the coronavirus outbreak, fast-food aggressively pivoted to digital orders and contactless pick-up — partly as a way to prevent spread of the disease, and as a means of survival in a world defined by social distancing. And judging by the moves made by other restaurant chains, many of those changes are likely here to stay. 

Taco Bell also teased "one upcoming opening in the heart of Manhattan" that will be a completely digital, in-person experience. Similarly, Shake Shack launched a Bryant Park Shack located on 42nd Street in the heart of the Big Apple's business and tourism sector as one of the first “small format” chains with digital, to-go guests in mind.

In Yum! Brands fourth-quarter results, Taco Bell full-year sales dipped 1%, yet overall digital sales among all brands — including Pizza Hut and KFC — "hit a record of $17 billion, about a 45% increase over the prior year." 

CEO David Gibbs noted that it was a "testament to our brands’ ability to quickly meet new consumer needs. I am more confident than ever in the ability of our teams and franchisees to compete and win in a rapidly changing world.”

Shares of Yum! Brands are up more than 86% from a year ago.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at bdipalma@yahoofinance.com.

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