Times Square in Manhattan will host the first "digital-only" Taco Bell restaurant in the USA starting tomorrow, Yum! Brands (YUM 2.82%) announced today, as it joins a trend several other restaurant chains have already pioneered. The digital-only label means there are no dine-in facilities on the premises and very little contact between customers and restaurant personnel, with high-tech ordering systems replacing the traditional dining approach.
Hungry customers place their orders in one of two ways. One method is to use one of 10 self-service kiosks at the Taco Bell location, while the other is to buy in advance using the brand's app or website. Once the order is placed, the customer receives an order number used to retrieve their food from a touchscreen-operated cubbyhole located in a pickup area. The location will also sell Taco Bell-themed souvenirs and an exclusive menu item, a cherry and green apple-flavored "Bell Apple Freeze" beverage.
Yum! Brands says the opening is spearheading the addition of at least 25 more Taco Bell locations in the area of the Big Apple. This in turn is part of the company's overall scheme to transform Taco Bell in a $20 billion brand before 2030.
As the COVID-19 lockdowns triggered a massive acceleration of online ordering, pickup, and delivery, Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG -0.04%) opened its first digital-only restaurant during November 2020. The company has worked to strengthen its digital presence, including planning for robotic delivery to cut down on overhead. Starbucks (SBUX 3.76%) has similarly opened digital-only facilities in response to rapidly changing conditions.
While the Times Square location is Yum's first digital-only Taco Bell in the United States, it opened a similar restaurant in London on Dec. 1, 2020, to apparently favorable customer response.