Sign up for our email list to get exclusive access to our new and off-market listings before they hit the market!

    Are you a..?

    No Thanks

    The Rise of Drive Thru Only | a Shake Shack drive-thru lane

    The Rise of Drive-Thru Only Restaurants

    The restaurant industry is witnessing a significant shift towards drive-thru only models, a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This transformation reflects changing consumer preferences for convenience and efficiency in their dining experiences.

    The Evolution of Drive-Thru Dining


    Historically, drive-thrus have been synonymous with fast-food chains, offering a quick way to order and receive meals without leaving the car. However, recent trends indicate a substantial increase in drive-thru usage, leading to the emergence of drive-thru only models. This evolution is highlighted in a QSR Magazine article, which discusses the growing preference for this format among various dining brands.

    Factors Driving the Shift


    – Consumer Behavior Changes

    The drive towards drive-thru only models is largely influenced by a shift in consumer behavior, where speed and convenience have become paramount. This trend, significantly amplified in the post-pandemic world, extends beyond traditional fast-food to encompass a wide array of restaurant categories, reflecting a broader transformation in the dining industry.

    The renaissance of drive-thru dining is not just about serving fast food more quickly but about reimagining the drive-thru experience across different food sectors, including pizza and coffee. For instance, technology-focused pizza chain Slice Factory has been offering pizza through a “slice-thru” lane since 2019, challenging the conventional wisdom that pizza and drive-thrus don’t mix. Similarly, Pizza Hut began rolling out “Hut Lanes” for digital pickup in 2021, further evidence of the drive-thrus’ expansion into new culinary territories.

    Factors Driving the Shift | a Human Bean Coffee Shop Drive Thru


    Coffee chains are another standout in the drive-thru transformation. Dutch Bros Coffee and Peet’s Coffee, known for their high customer satisfaction scores, have seen significant growth in their drive-thru operations. The Human Bean, an Oregon-based drive-thru coffee brand, exemplifies the industry’s shift towards efficiency and convenience, having optimized its service to reduce order times to around 30 seconds. This focus on speed and convenience is a direct response to the growing consumer demand for quick and accessible dining options.

    – Economic Considerations

    Economic factors play a crucial role in this shift. Drive-thru only models offer significant cost savings in terms of real estate and labor, making them an attractive option for many businesses. 

    – Technological Advancements

    Technological advancements, particularly in digital ordering and artificial intelligence (AI), have significantly revolutionized the drive-thru experience. A pivotal example of this transformation is McDonald’s, which has been leveraging cutting-edge technology to enhance efficiency and customer satisfaction at its drive-thru locations.

    McDonald’s: A Case Study in Innovation


    New Dining Trends | a McDonalds Drive Thru lane

    McDonald’s has been at the forefront of integrating technology into its service model. A staggering 70% of the chain’s U.S. business was accounted for by drive-thru transactions as of November 2022, underscoring the channel’s importance to the company’s overall strategy.

    In response to evolving consumer preferences, McDonald’s has introduced take-out-only prototypes that emphasize drive-thru and digital ordering while significantly reducing or altogether eliminating dining space. One notable innovation is the introduction of automated conveyor belts to deliver food to customers, streamlining the process and reducing wait times. This approach not only caters to the demand for speed and convenience but also showcases the potential for technology to redefine the fast-food experience.

    The success of these prototypes is evident in their operational efficiency and customer reception. By focusing on digital ordering systems and minimizing in-person interactions, McDonald’s has been able to serve a larger volume of customers with greater speed and accuracy. Although specific statistics regarding the performance of these take-out-only locations were not disclosed, the company’s continued investment in and expansion of this model suggest positive outcomes.

    Furthermore, McDonald’s commitment to technological innovation extends beyond the drive-thru lane. The company has made significant strides in AI, including the acquisition of a “decision engine” capable of adjusting digital menu displays based on various factors such as time of day and weather conditions. This AI-driven approach enables a more personalized and efficient ordering experience, further enhancing customer satisfaction.

    Taco Bell: Redefining Drive-Thru with Taco Bell Defy


    The Future of Drive-Thru Dining | Taco Bell Defy


    Taco Bell’s Taco Bell Defy model represents another leap forward in drive-thru innovation. This concept features multiple drive-thru lanes dedicated to mobile and delivery order pickups, digital check-in screens, and contactless food delivery systems. By embracing technology, Taco Bell Defy aims to drastically reduce service times and improve the overall customer experience, setting a new standard for the industry.

    The Future of Drive-Thru Dining


    The technological advancements embraced by McDonald’s and Taco Bell illustrate the fast-food industry’s shift towards a more digital, efficient, and customer-centric service model. As these technologies continue to evolve and become more integrated into everyday operations, drive-thru dining is poised for further transformation, promising even greater convenience and speed for consumers.

    Impact on the Restaurant Landscape


    The rise of drive-thru only models is leading to significant changes in restaurant design, with a move towards smaller footprints and reduced dine-in options. Operational shifts are also evident, with a greater emphasis on speed and efficiency. 

    Challenges and Opportunities

    While the drive-thru only model offers numerous advantages, it also presents challenges, particularly in maintaining a quality customer experience. However, it also opens up opportunities for brand differentiation in an increasingly drive-thru dominated market.

    The rise of drive-thru only restaurants is a clear indicator of the future direction of the restaurant industry. This trend aligns with broader shifts in consumer behavior and technological advancements, pointing towards a more efficient, technology-driven dining experience.


    • “Welcome to the Rise of Drive-Thru-Only Restaurants” – QSR Magazine
    • “How the drive-thru transformation is shaking up the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News
    • “The end of McDonald’s self-serve soda signals a drive-thru-only future” – Quartz
    • “11 Fast-Food Chains That Are Phasing Out Dining Rooms” – Eat This Not That