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Chipotle is latest restaurant to embrace drive-thru in Lincoln
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Chipotle is latest restaurant to embrace drive-thru in Lincoln

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Chipotlane, 6.29

The new Chipotle that opened this week at 7133 Pioneers Blvd. is a former Taco Bell, and is the first Chipotle in Lincoln to have a “Chipotlane,” which is a drive-thru lane that’s only for picking up orders you have made online. 

On Monday, Chipotle Mexican Grill opened its first Lincoln store with a drive-thru.

The location, in a former Taco Bell at 7133 Pioneers Blvd., is part of a new concept for Chipotle, called "Chipotlane." Rather than driving up to a menu board and using an intercom to order and then driving to a window to get their food, customers order ahead using the company's website or app and then pick up their order in the drive-thru.

"These formats continue to perform very well and are helping enhance guest access and convenience, as well as increase new restaurant sales, margins and returns," Chipotle said in a news release announcing its first-quarter earnings.

Chipotle has found success with the concept and is rapidly rolling it out. Though only about 7% of Chipotle locations had a Chipotlane as of March 31, more than 60% of the stores the company has opened since the start of 2020 have one.

And that percentage appears to be growing.

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Erin Wolford, Chipotle's senior director of external communications, said the company expects that about 70% of the approximately 200 new locations it plans to open this year will have a Chipotlane.

Chipotle is among a number of restaurant companies both large and small that have learned the value of drive-thrus.

Many restaurants already were embracing drive-thrus before COVID-19, but the pandemic turbocharged the move for some.

Even before the pandemic, drive-thru visits had grown, with 39% of people saying they visited a drive-thru more in 2019 than they did in 2018, according to the National Restaurant Association. And they are continuing to grow.

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As of April, the number of people who had used a restaurant drive-thru was 36% higher than it was in April 2020, according to a survey from Bluedot. In addition, the survey found nine out of 10 diners had visited a drive-thru in the past month.

Drive-thrus have long been a staple for fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King, but they are now being embraced by fast-casual and coffee chains as well.

For years, none of the three Panera Bread locations in Lincoln had drive-thrus. But in early 2019, the chain opened two new locations with drive-thrus -- at 62nd and O streets and 14th Street and Pine Lake Road -- to replace locations nearby.

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Scooters Coffee is another chain that has embraced the drive-thru. Last fall, it closed two of its stores downtown because they lacked a drive-thru. Most of its new locations in Lincoln and elsewhere now are kiosk-style buildings that have little if any seating and do most of their business through their drive-thru windows.

"More and more people are drinking coffee every year, and to be able to serve these people we need drive-thrus," said Jason Metcalf, the franchisee for Scooters in Lincoln.

Metcalf said people are also busier than ever and appreciate not having to leave their car to get their coffee.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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