Taco Bell Adapts to Pandemic, Launches ‘Defy,’ a Contactless Drive-Thru

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Taco Bell is finding a new way to adapt to the pandemic, launching what it calls a futuristic, contactless drive-thru restaurant.

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Dubbed “Taco Bell Defy,” the “frictionless future of Taco Bell” will break ground in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, later this month and open its doors to the public by summer 2022, according to a press release.

The two-story model has four drive-thru lanes and was designed by Vertical Works. Three of the four lanes are dedicated to mobile or delivery order pickups — a dining habit that has been increasing since the pandemic.

“I think as people get more vaccinated, drive-thru ordering will go down some, but I don’t think it will go down to previous levels because this heightened awareness of germs is here to stay and some people are just used to doing things differently now,” Lisa van Kesteren, CEO of SeeLevel HX, which conducts an annual study of drive-thru lane service, told CNBC.

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Recent pandemic-driven examples include Chipotle, which launched “Chipotlanes” last year, and Pizza Hut, which launched  “Hut Lanes,” a digital order pick-up window.

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Taco Bell says that digital check-in screens allow mobile order customers to scan in their order via a unique QR code, then pull forward for a pickup experience that “defies gravity,” as food is delivered in a contactless manner via a lift system. There is also a two-way audio and video technology that lets customers interact directly with the team members in the elevated kitchen.

In August 2020, Taco Bell said it “quickly evolved to deliver on changing consumer behaviors” by launching the Go Mobile framework, a concept that has been a big hit. To date, there are 13 Go Mobile restaurants built and another 85 in the pipeline, with Defy being the latest innovation under this category, according to the release.

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The concept is a collaboration with Border Foods, one of the largest private Taco Bell franchisees in the U.S.

“This new, innovative concept breaking ground in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, will improve a major aspect of the consumer experience: drive-thru speed,” Aaron Engler, President of Border Foods, said in the release. “We’re partnering with Taco Bell and the best and brightest in technology and design to create what will very likely be the future of quick service restaurants.”

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