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This Popular Mexican Chain Is Opening a First-Of-Its-Kind Location Here

Digital orders are at the forefront of this new restaurant design.

America's most popular fast-casual chain plans on staying ahead of the competition with an ambitious growth plan and cutting-edge innovations in restaurant design. To that end, it will soon be opening a unique new location that emphasizes an ever-growing shift to digital sales.

Chipotle has made it known that it plans on doubling in size in the next few years. From its current 3,000 locations, it plans to reach 6,000 by opening locations of varying sizes and features, from larger restaurants with Chipotlanes (drive-thru lanes) to smaller digital-only locations that function like ghost kitchens preparing orders for pickup and delivery only. But its latest restaurant prototype combines the best of both worlds—it's a digital-only restaurant with a drive-thru and a walk-up window for picking up orders. And it's opening in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio later this month.

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The first-of-its-kind Chipotle, dubbed the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen, will combine the chain's proprietary drive-thru with the features of a digital-only location that was tested in New York state last year. Customers will be able to place digital orders (either directly from the chain or from third-party delivery platforms) for pickup at the walk-up or drive-thru windows, but won't be able to enter the restaurant or place their orders in person. The design further demonstrates that the chain is moving toward phasing out dining rooms at a portion of their locations. However, the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen will feature a small patio for on-premise dining.

Chipotle's emphasis on drive-thrus is a result of their high profitability and will be implemented wherever possible, according to Tabassum Zalotrawala, Chipotle's chief development officer.

"Chipotlanes are a key growth strategy for the brand," Zalotrawala said in a statement. "Our portfolio of approximately 300 Chipotlanes perform with the highest margins across the board, so we continue to evolve our restaurant design with formats such as the Chipotlane Digital Kitchen to best suit our growing digital business."

Scott Boatwright, Chipotle's chief restaurant officer echoed the importance of Chipotlanes to the brand's strategy in an October interview with Nation's Restaurant News. He also said the right balance of digital and in-store sales is something the company is still figuring out.

"If we're going to go build a new restaurant, we're going to build a Chipotlane first," he said. "We'll fall back on traditional Chipotles, end caps, if you will. And we'll leverage those digital restaurants when it makes sense to do so in smaller footprints where we're compromised on space and/or use them as C restaurants to offload burdens on two higher-volume restaurants where we can't build another free-standing restaurant in proximity."

Since there's such an emphasis on digital order placement, the chain is working on improving its speed of execution. According to CEO Brian Niccol, the time between placing a digital order and pickup is currently 10 minutes—down from 12 minutes earlier in the year.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is a Deputy Editor leading ETNT's coverage of America's favorite fast foods and restaurant chains. Read more