As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry has had to endure drastic circumstances and make significant adaptations in order to stay afloat. Outdoor dining has become a hot commodity, while indoor dining has been discouraged, but available at reduced capacities. However, with the weather getting colder and colder as we move into the new year, not many people will be looking to eat outside. Additionally, many states are completely shutting down all indoor dining establishments, citing the spiking COVID case numbers around the country. Restaurants simply cannot catch a break, although these government decisions are of course being made for the health and safety of all people.
Yet, one facet of the restaurant industry that has seen a huge expansion since the onset of the pandemic is pick-up and delivery orders. This means of purchasing food provides the customer with as much safety and as little human contact as possible, two very important characteristics of life in 2020. A notable increase in pick-up and delivery orders has been coupled with an exponential rise in the popularity of online/mobile ordering. As people have come to use a wider range of technology in their everyday lives than ever thought possible, members of the food industry, ranging from small business restaurant owners to chairmen of large food corporations, have had to adjust accordingly. Chipotle, one of the most popular and innovative food chains in the U.S., has done just that.
On Saturday, November 14, Chipotle opened its first-ever digital-only restaurant right outside the campus of the United States Military Academy. The opening of this restaurant, known as Chipotle Digital Kitchen, is truly a sign of the times, and something that the corporation will likely be looking to expand upon in the coming months. What makes the Digital Kitchen unique from a typical Chipotle location is its lack of a dining space and line for ordering. Considering the fact that a 20-minute wait on a line (at the very least) is often an integral part of a quintessential Chipotle experience, most people are probably blown away to hear the concept of “no line at Chipotle.” The new restaurant mandates ordering in advance via one of three options: Chipotle’s website, app, or an external food delivery platform. When customers walk in, they will enter into either the normal pick-up lobby, or a specialized lobby reserved for picking up larger catering orders.
The executive board of Chipotle decided that the launch of such a prototype was vital as the corporation looks to acclimate itself to an increasingly digitized world. Moreover, Chipotle believes that such Digital Kitchens will be very efficient for other reasons, such as real estate management. Since such digital storefronts are obviously notably smaller in size than typical Chipotle locations, the price of the property is much less. Subsequently, a huge benefit is that these compact locations will be able to be opened in large urban hubs where real estate prices for full-size restaurant properties are usually through the roof. With statistics showing that e-commerce represents the future of the food industry, it seems as though sales would not decrease much at all as a result of an inability to eat in/at the restaurant, especially since many loyal patrons will do whatever it takes for their favorite bowl, burrito, or other menu item.
Rather than suffering defeat to the pandemic and the economic downfall it has led to, Chipotle has been resilient and exploited the unique opportunities COVID brought to the table. With online ordering at the forefront of change in so many industries, Chipotle saw its digital sales more than triple in the third quarter. Brian Niccol, CEO of the corporation, remarked that Chipotle’s total digital orders could potentially surpass $2.5 billion, more than doubling the total in 2019. With its new concept of a digital-only restaurant, Chipotle is just getting its feet wet in its quest into the future of food. In all likelihood, many restaurants will look to follow suit in the coming months in order to optimize their business for digital ordering.