Sweetgreen Looks to the Suburbs, Plans First Drive-Thru Store

Amid the pandemic, a few other chains have been ramping up drive-thrus this year.

In January, the New York Times did a lengthy profile of Sweetgreen, and co-founder Jonathan Neman discussed what he hoped the fast-casual salad chain would be able to achieve this year. It had just opened its experimental "Sweetgreen 3.0" restaurant in New York City, and it was planning to open a number of delivery-only ghost kitchens throughout Manhattan as well. Neman also said that he hoped Sweetgreen would be able to double its number of restaurants, and that there would be at least 200 locations within the next three years.

We all had big plans in January, though, and almost all of them had been upended by mid-March. Within a month, one former worker told dot.LA that orders through the Sweetgreen app had fallen by two-thirds. And in October, the company announced that it was "restructuring" and would lay off 20% of the employees who worked in its Culver City, California, headquarters.

Sweetgreen Drive-In Restaurant Rendering
Rendering courtesy of Sweetgreen

Many of Sweetgreen's restaurants are located in city centers—in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C., among others—and business suffered when office buildings stopped requiring their workers to work on-site, and when foot-traffic from both locals and visitors decreased.

But according to CNBC, Sweetgreen has a new concept in mind. Next year, the company plans to open its first-ever drive-thru restaurant—and its first suburban location—in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. (There are already two Sweetgreens in Denver and one in Boulder.)

Customers will place their orders in advance through the Sweetgreen app, then drive to the restaurant to collect them through their car windows. Those who don't want to use the app can place their orders through "a dedicated concierge for car ordering," and they can choose to either park and eat onsite, or get out of their cars and enjoy their meals at an outdoor patio.

"Definitely during Covid, our work on this accelerated, and we said, ‘Now’s our time,‘” Chief Concept Officer Nic Jammet said. “Our customers’ behavior is shifting even more rapidly ... and as we move into more of these suburban areas and opening in new cities and new neighborhoods, it just seemed like something we should really focus on finally."

Sweetgreen isn't the only chain that is embracing the drive-thru experience. Shake Shack will open its first drive-thru next year, and some new Chipotle restaurants will be equipped with a drive-thru "Chipotlane." On top of that, Starbucks has reportedly planned to increase the number of mobile pick-up cafes, Taco Bell could pivot to a double-drive-thru, and some Burger King concepts have three drive-thru lanes, including one that would be specifically for third-party delivery drivers.

Even McDonald's has imagined ways it could become even more drive-thru centric: Wired reports that it has considered drive-thru only restaurants without any indoor lobby seating, parking spaces reserved for customers who placed their orders in advance, or even a drive-thru lane where the orders will be delivered on a giant conveyor belt.

The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine means that, by this time next year, we may be able to get out of our cars a little more often—but we honestly might not want to.

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