Applebee's Is the Latest Sit-Down Restaurant to Experiment with a Drive-Thru Window

As diners get used to ordering online, curbside delivery may not cut it anymore.

According to market researchers at The NPD Group, restaurant drive-thru visits increased by 26 percent during the second quarter of 2020—for obvious reasons. As indoor dining rooms faced restrictions, temporary closures, and capacity limits, drive-thrus became an essential option for hungry customers.

The researchers have suggested that drive-thru windows, curbside pickup, and other "off-premises operations" will continue to play an increased role as the U.S. inches its way to the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and some restaurant execs seem to have arrived at the same conclusions. Sweetgreen and Shake Shake have both announced that they'll be opening their first drive-thru locations this year, while Chipotle and Starbucks have also hinted at increasing their drive-thru and mobile pickup options.

Applebee's Restaurant entrance
William Howard/Getty Images

And now apparently one Applebee's location is giving it a go, too. Nations Restaurant News reports that Applebee's franchisee Apple Arkansas is adding a drive-thru window to one restaurant in Texarkana, Texas, to see whether customers are ready to collect their Riblet Baskets and Bourbon Street Steaks through their car windows.

"We look forward to assessing the performance of this installation, understanding feedback from our guests and operators, as well as any impact to business performance," Scott Gladstone, the vice-president of strategy and development at Applebee's, told the outlet. "If positive, we will determine whether pickup windows should be included in our building design packages."

When the drive-thru opens later this year, Applebee's customers can either order by phone (because that's still a thing, we guess) and pay at the window, or they can order and pay for their meals online or through a phone app. After ordering, they'll be given a time to roll up to the window to pick up their meals.

IHOP, which is also owned by Applebee's parent company Dine Brands Global, has also suggested that it might continue to move past its traditional dine-in model. According to Forbes, by the end of last year, over 30 percent of IHOP's orders were either delivery (16 percent) or takeout (18 percent). Although it hasn't specifically mentioned adding a drive-thru window, president Jay Johns says the chain is "thinking through" its options.

"I think consumer behavior will shift permanently to to-go and delivery because people have learned how to use them and, frankly, it looks like they like them," he told the outlet last November.

"We are looking at prototypes to think how we handle to-go orders more efficiently. What are better, easier ways to pick up food? Does that include a pickup window? [...] We were already thinking about to-go differently, but now we're thinking about it more and ideating the most optimal ways to pick up food."

That's good news for diners who have fully embraced some of the new conveniences afforded by increased drive-thru or pickup options, but can we all agree that neither racks of ribs nor stacks of pancakes are ideal eat-while-driving foods?

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