Chipotle’s mobile-order drive-thru will hit Long Island for the first time this summer.
The nation's second-largest Mexican-food restaurant chain is planning to open two new eateries on Long Island — one in Westbury this summer and one in Deer Park in 2023— that will have "Chipotlanes," which are drive-thrus that are only for customers picking up food they ordered in advance on the Chipotle app or website.
Chipotle launched Chipotlanes in 2018 and had 355 by the end of last year. But none of the chain’s approximately 3,000 restaurants, including the 33 on Long Island, has a regular order-from-the-car drive-thru, according to the company, which is based in Newport Beach, California.
But like other fast-casual chains, such as Shake Shack and Panera, Chipotle has sped up the pace of incorporating drive-thrus of some sort at new restaurants after finding that they boost sales, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic nixed or reduced indoor dining at some restaurants for months.
"Since launching in early 2018, the Chipotlane format has proven to enhance guest access and convenience, as well as increase new restaurant sales, margins and returns," a spokeswoman for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. said.
New Chipotle restaurants open with sales that are about 15% higher if they have Chipotlanes, the company said.
Chipotlanes will be at more than 80% of the 235 to 250 new Chipotle restaurants opening in 2022, the company said.
"Chipotle has ... been a leader amongst its fast-casual counterparts when it comes to investing in drive-thrus,” said Kevin Schimpf, director of industry research and insights at Technomic, a restaurant and retail industry research firm in Chicago.
The Chipotle planned for Westbury will be at 474 Old Country Rd.
The Town of Hempstead issued a building permit in August for a 2,328-square-foot restaurant that will have a drive-thru, 42 indoor seats and 16 outdoor seats, said Frederick A. Jawitz, the town's acting commissioner of the building department.
The Westbury restaurant is under construction on the former site of a vacant, three-tenant retail building that was demolished, said Adam Mann, a partner in Westbury 474 LLC, the Jericho-based owner of the Westbury property.
Chipotle has leased the building, construction of which should be finished in about six weeks, Mann said.
The 2,845-square-foot Deer Park restaurant would be in a former Capital One Bank building at 1831 Deer Park Ave.
Revised plans for interior alterations and facade renovations for a 48-seat restaurant are under review by the Town of Babylon’s engineering and planning divisions, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said.
The town’s planning board could vote on the project this month, he said.
Pandemic quickens changes
Fast-casual restaurants used to side-eye even the thought of incorporating drive-thrus.
The eateries tried to set themselves apart from fast-food restaurants by offering contemporary interior designs, food that was prepared to order, and fresh — or perceived-as-fresh — ingredients to customers who were willing to pay more for it and walk inside.
That began to change several years ago, and the pandemic sped up the changes.
“During the depths of COVID-19, when dining rooms were closed, fast-casuals saw their [quick-service restaurant] counterparts maintain steady sales through their drive-thru operations,” Schimpf said.
Furthermore, some customers who shifted to digital ordering for the first time stuck with it even after indoor dining resumed, said Jim Sanderson, a restaurant analyst at Northcoast Research, an equity research firm in Cleveland.
Fast-casual chains such as Shake Shack and Sweetgreen, which never had drive-thrus before, changed their minds during the pandemic, while chains that already had drive-thrus, such as Chipotle and Panera, accelerated their growth, Schimpf said.
Shake Shack, which has four restaurants on Long Island, plans to introduce its drive-up window for mobile orders, called a Shack Track, to the region in late 2023 with a new restaurant in Oceanside.
The burger chain has traditional drive-thrus at only three restaurants, the first two of which opened in December, and eight Shake Tracks with drive-up windows, the first of which opened in April 2021 in Indiana, after the chain experienced a dramatic sales decline during the pandemic.
By the end of 2022, Shake Shack plans to have 10 traditional drive-thrus open nationwide, and 25% of its 45 to 50 new restaurants opening this year will have Shack Track drive-up or walk-up windows, Randy Garutti, Shake Shack’s chief executive officer, said on an earnings call with analysts in November.
Chipotle’s digital sales in 2021 grew 24.7% to $3.4 billion in 2021 and represented 45.6% of all sales.
About half of the digital sales were from order-ahead transactions “as guests better understand the value offered by this channel, as well as the added convenience of more Chipotlanes,” Chipotle said in an earnings report in February.