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Five locations already have the new drive-thru system with more to come.

Mike Pomranz
May 24, 2018

Let’s cut to the chase: Chipotle has been having a tough run for quite some time now. Many of the things that made Chipotle the darling of the fast-casual world just a few years ago still exist, but needless to say, the chain still has a long road of reputation rebuilding ahead of it after numerous food handling incidents. Now, one promise for Chipotle’s future has arrived, but the form it’s taken has an innovative new twist. Nearly a year after testing began, Chipotle said it’s officially adding drive-thru windows at some new locations, but instead of the typical pull-up-and-talk-into-a-speaker system, the burrito chain is instead asking customers to place their orders via the Chipotle mobile app and only pull into the drive-thru lane for pickup.

For most quick-service chains, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking might be met with instant praise. In theory, ordering though a mobile app could make waiting in a drive-thru line that much faster, but right now, Chipotle has to deal with more scrutiny than your average business.

“[CEO] Brian [Niccol] has said very well that Chipotle has this huge opportunity ahead of us as it relates to access,” Curt Garner, chief digital and information officer at Chipotle, told CNBC. “We still only have 2,500 locations. There are plenty of places and occasions for us to continue to grow into. But as we've looked at access, we've also looked at it in terms of different restaurant formats and these mobile drive-thru pick-up restaurants are part of that.”

For now, only five such mobile pick-up locations exists—two in Ohio and one each in Tennessee, Texas, and Massachusetts. CNBC says a sixth location is set to open in Virginia, and Garner said that all new locations are being considered for this feature. “As we are looking at our real estate pipeline, part of the criteria that has been introduced is to understand how many of those sites might lend themselves to that experience, even if we don't open them immediately with [the mobile lane] enabled,” he told the site.

Regardless, one big positive takeaway for Chipotle would seem to be that the brand is once again looking forward and trying to innovate instead of worrying about the past. Speaking of Brian Niccol, he was brought in earlier this year to replace former CEO and founder Steve Ellis. Niccol’s previous job: CEO of Taco Bell. Imagine if Taco Bell had moved to mobile ordering for their drive-thru windows? The response probably would have been overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully, Niccol has some other tricks up his sleeve from here.

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