Taco Bell opened its first digital-only restaurant in the U.S. yesterday, a New York’s Times Square “Cantina” store that has no order counter or menu boards.
The only way to order is ahead of time online or by mobile, or in-store using one of 10 self-order kiosks. Order-ahead customers can use a separate entrance and pick up their meals, without talking to anyone, from a set of cubbies that are a bit like the Buy Online Pickup In Store lockers you see in stores like Walmart.
Chain operator Yum Brands says the digital-only approach is because the store is insanely busy – located in the heart of a tourism magnet. But it would also have to do with the ability to either reduce order counter staff or re-allocate staffing to food prep.
This kind of design could also reduce lines in-store, though people may just wait for a kiosk instead of a spot at the head of a line.
The Cantina restaurants are intended to be smaller, with open kitchens and alcohol on the menu. Taco Bell has already opened more than 20 Cantinas across New York’s five boroughs.
This is interesting in a few ways:
- a well-known, big chain going with self-service ordering stations-only;
- an indication that major QSRs perhaps see more health risk in one-to-one counter ordering than touch screens;
- NO digital menu boards, with the menus contained only on the ordering screens. If you follow digital signage, you know digital menu boards have grown common.
I don’t think this hints at digital menu boards losing their importance in QSR chains, but where self-service kiosks are the norm (or in this case the only in-venue option), I could see digital menu displays being re-positioned to be in view of the people waiting for the next kiosk to come free. I could also imagine some operators using in-store displays, instead, to drive specials and high-margin items.