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This Restaurant Chain Known For Massive Dining Rooms Is Turning to Drive-Thru Windows

With 15 new drive-thrus opening this year.

A meal at Applebee's usually means scoring an oversized booth in a dimly lit dining room with loud décor scattered all across the walls. But the dine-in chain may be changing that image, as it is looking to grow the number of its drive-thru locations.

After seeing takeout sales increase by 27% during the pandemic, Applebee's has announced that it will expand the testing of its drive-thru windows, according to CNN Business. Although the chain currently only operates two locations with drive-thru lanes—one in Texarkana, Texas, and another in Monroe, La.—the company plans on opening two more in West Columbia, S.C. and Colonial Heights, Va.

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John Cywinski, Applebee's president, expects 15 drive-thru windows to open by the end of 2022. The company currently has 1,578 restaurant locations across the United States.

Unlike fast-food giants like McDonald's and Burger King, which have outdoor menu boards and speaker systems, the Applebee's drive-thru requires customers to order ahead of time—either online or through the chain's mobile app—and go to the window for pickup.

According to Cywinski, 10 years ago, no one would have considered Applebee's when seeking out a to-go meal. However, now that the national restaurant chain is "competing directly with [quick-service restaurants] and fast casual," there is a greater need for another ordering option.

Additionally, Cywinski believes the drive-thru windows would streamline the delivery process for drivers who would typically go into the restaurant to retrieve orders. Delivery currently makes up about 13% of Applebee's sales.

Although the number of restaurants that will ultimately have drive-thru windows is unclear, the chain intends to lean into the expansion aggressively.

"We think there's a really strong argument for it," Cywinski told CNN Business. "We will scale it, should the business case be clear. My instinct says yes, there's a genuine need."

Brianna Ruback
Brianna is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! She attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Communication Studies. Read more about Brianna