Taco Bell opens futuristic two-story drive-thru complete with food elevators

Taco Bell is kicking off summer with a redesigned drive-thru plucked right out of an episode of “The Jetsons.”

On Tuesday, the Mexican-inspired fast-food chain announced that its newest high-tech, two-story location, “Taco Bell Defy,” will open doors this week. Customers visiting the Brooklyn Park, Minnesota location can expect to roll up to the drive-thru spot and find themselves face-to-face with video technology and a little food elevator rather than an employee outfitted with a headset.

The new location’s most prominent feature includes four drive-thru lanes where customers can have pickup orders dropped to their cars via a cylindrical “proprietary vertical lift.” Picture the vacuum tube at bank drive-thrus, but for your Mexican Pizza.

“Taco Bell Defy is an incredible innovation for our brand, and one that’s meeting our consumer in a really unique way. For decades we’ve been committed to providing a fast, safe and friendly drive-thru experience; now with our bold goal of creating a two minute or less drive-thru experience for customers of this concept, Taco Bell Defy is the future,” Mike Grams, Taco Bell’s president, and global COO wrote in a statement. “We’re thankful for our incredible 36-year partnership with Border Foods and feel like Taco Bell Defy is a culmination of years of success between our teams, along with the expertise of local partners like Vertical Works who helped make this possible.”

The 3,000 square-foot, two-story pickup spot aims to reduce the challenges of traditional drive-thrus with a system that keeps delivery time down to two minutes or less. The new location will have four lanes to accommodate customers which will be dedicated to pre-orders made via the Taco Bell app as well as pickups for delivery drivers. Only one lane will be reserved for customers looking to have a traditional drive-thru experience.

The Taco Bell Defy location opens as fast-food chains pivot service models, really leaning into the drive-thru experience, in response to the pandemic.

According to a 2020 CNBC report, visits to drive-thrus lept by 26% in that April, May and June — the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. The same year, Taco Bell revealed that an additional 4.8 million cars passed through its drive-thrus. In response to “The Great Resignation,” a company called Bite Ninja began offering a new tool to fast-food chains that allowed employees a chance to work at drive-thrus from home.

Taco Bell is only the latest in a string of fast-food chains figuring out how to tap into emerging technologies for business. In 2019, CNBC reported that McDonald’s had begun to test out the use of artificial intelligence to save on labor and to make adjustments to menus according to weather and promotions. Sonic and Checkers have been testing out AI for the drive-thru, too. Earlier this year, TODAY reported that Chipotle is testing out a robotic chip-maker and White Castle hired robot fry cooks to flip burgers.

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