Chipotle opens the prototype of the online order only “Digital Kitchen”

Chipotle announcement it’s opening a new “Digital Kitchen” restaurant this month in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (about 40 miles south of Cleveland) – which will exclusively accept online orders.

The prototype location will offer its ‘Chipotlane’, outdoor seating and tables for dining (no dining area) and a walk-in window. Hungry customers should avoid knocking on this pickup window expecting their order to be taken. Instead, order online or on the Chipotle app, then return to the window or go to drive-thru.

Imagine begging the Chipotle worker at the window to allow you to get a few drops of that magical kicker of a sauce.
Image: Tabasco

Chipotle says there are already around 300 restaurants with a drive-thru window, which is only about 10 percent of all of its burrito buying destinations. If this digital kitchen store prototype is successful, we can probably expect to see fewer dining rooms with soda stations, and say goodbye to the DIY smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce app (at the moment you can’t select this sauce in the control system).

Chipotle might experience issues with customers trying to take orders out the window, only to be turned away to order online. As long as the restaurant looks like a Chipotle, which is a place people expect to line up and build a burrito, there will be some confusion. It might be beneficial for Chipotle to visually differentiate their digital kitchen more and become a ghost kitchen, which the company seems to be borrowing a bit of the idea from.

The concept of Ghost Kitchens, an online-only virtual restaurant that does not have a customer-facing location, has grown in popularity. Ghost kitchens like MrBeast Burger have operated out of restaurants in need of another source of income during the pandemic. The concept has also evolved into kitchens short of shipping containers and parking lots. By design, a ghost kitchen will only invite online delivery orders without customers trying to knock on doors.

Chipotle drive-thru locations are still quite scarce, only one of the seven locations near the Rutherford, New Jersey area has them.

While not a ghost kitchen, concepts like Chipotle’s digital kitchen are popping up all over this pandemic world – including new spots for Jack in the Box, Del Taco, and Taco Bell. In an effort to practice social distancing, more and more people are ordering food online, using delivery services, and going to drive-thru. Chipotle’s Chipotlane locations are also expanding to accommodate this, and an easy way to do that is to take over buildings that already have drive-thru.

This North Bergen, New Jersey Carl’s Jr. has been permanently closed and is now a “Chipotlane” restaurant.
Via Apple Maps, look around you

At least one place I found in North Bergen, New Jersey was a Carl’s Jr., but now it’s a Chipotlane. Chipotle will likely continue to do so – new restaurants with Chipotlanes apparently have 15% higher sales than others – until they can produce beans and guac almost as fast as Taco Bell can, possibly risking be more exhausting its employees.

“Taco Bell Defy” has four drive-thru lanes, three for delivery services. Orders are placed online.
Image: taco bell

Taco Bell, the fast food chain that recently snubbed alternative meat, announcement in August, its first “Taco Bell Defy” location in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, is a four-lane drive-thru-only. The new locations will have an upper-level kitchen that sends digital commands via an elevator without any human contact. Three of those four lanes are also dedicated to delivery services – while Chipotle will share only one with DoorDash-type delivery services and regular customers.