Jun 6, 2022 - Economy

Taco Bell redefines the drive-thru with "Defy" restaurant

Taco Bell restaurant with four drive-thru lanes

The first Taco Bell Defy restaurant opens Tuesday in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Photo: Taco Bell

Taco Bell's new “Defy” restaurant concept, which looks like a combo of The Jetsons and a fancy new bank, promises to deliver food to your car faster through vertical lifts that work similarly to tubes used by banks.

Driving the news: The first two-story Defy location with four drive-thru lanes opens Tuesday.

  • The new franchise restaurant is in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and operated by Border Foods, which has close to 240 Taco Bell locations.
  • Three of the drive-thru lanes are dedicated to mobile or delivery orders and the fourth is a traditional drive-thru.
  • Mobile order customers scan a QR code they received when placing their orders and pull forward to receive their food.
  • Food is delivered from the elevated kitchen above through a proprietary lift system developed by Minneapolis-based Vertical Works Inc.

Why it matters: The fast-food restaurant drive-thru and mobile ordering have both grown since the pandemic.

  • From February 2020 through February 2022, digital orders grew by 117%, delivery orders by 116% and drive-thru orders increased by 20%, according to The NPD Group.
  • According to the 2021 QSR magazine Drive Thru Study, the average total time on a fast-food line was 346 seconds but Taco Bell had the fastest time at 268 seconds.
  • McDonald's and Chick-fil-A are among the fast-food restaurants with two drive-thru lanes for ordering at many locations, but in most cases, the lines merge with one location to pick up meals.
  • A designated drive-thru line for mobile orders is the top consumer ask for future innovations, according to Bluedot's The State of What Feeds Us report.
Taco Bell Defy restaurant with multiple drive-thru lanes
There is no dining room in the first Taco Bell Defy restaurant. Photo: Taco Bell

What they're saying: Longtime Taco Bell franchisee Lee Engler, who is co-founder and CEO of Border Foods, said in an interview with Axios that the lifts remind him of The Jetsons and Star Trek with how food is delivered through the lifts.

  • “We believe that it's the first one of its kind, definitely in the United States and we think maybe throughout the world, in terms of how we're moving the food from the kitchen down to the customer,” said Engler, who has operated Taco Bell franchise restaurants with his brother Jeff for 36 years.
  • “There's just so many ways for this to solve problems in our business today,” Taco Bell President Mike Grams, who is also the brand's global chief operating officer, told Axios. “We're going all in on this one to get it as big as it can possibly be.”

What's next: Engler said a second Defy restaurant is planned to open next year as a rebuilt restaurant in Minnesota.

  • “That will be the true test of what the throughput improvement is and answer some of the questions of the turn away factor.”
  • Gram said the company is also looking to test the concept outside of Minnesota in the future.
Taco Bell food in a lift
With Taco Bell Defy, food is delivered to cars through lifts from the second-floor kitchen. Photo: Taco Bell

Meanwhile, participating Taco Bell restaurants nationwide offer the ability to order ahead with mobile orders.

  • Some menu items, especially for limited-time products, are only available to order online or with the app.

Be smart: Ordering ahead with the Taco Bell app and with other chains can mean free food, deals and saving time.

  • Taco Bell's loyalty members earn points on orders that can be redeemed for freebies and get exclusive offers along with the chance to try new menu items early.
  • For a limited time, new members who sign up for Taco Bell Rewards can get a free Doritos Locos Taco.

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