The other prototype is 1,800 square feet with a traditional drive-thru and 35 seats. Bartlett says that with this layout, designers placed much thought into the guest journey as they come through the restaurant, including a view of freshly baked bread as customers walk inside.
A company store in Oklahoma will open a prototype in late spring or early summer. Additionally, Midwest franchisee JJ Ramsey—who operates locations across Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas—signed a deal to open four prototypes.
“By redesigning the building and setting the line up differently, we’re able to do what we do with less people, which is obviously important in today's environment, but still be able to deliver the speed and the accuracy that the consumers demand,” Bartlett says.
Going forward, Schlotzsky’s expects 99 percent of new restaurants to have a drive-thru. Bartlett notes that current stores won’t be retrofitted because the 15 percent of stores that are non-drive-thru are usually in-line or constrained by real estate in some manner.
Drive-thru restaurant visits grew by 26 percent in April, May, and June, and represented more than 40 percent of visits in that three-month span, according to the NPD Group. Even after dining rooms reopened, drive-thru occasions grew by 13 percent in July, which was the highest growth among on-premises, carryout, and delivery channels.
Because of that industry-wide growth, Schlotzsky’s isn’t alone in betting on the future of drive-thru. Major players like Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Qdoba are increasing their investment on the channel. With higher demand for land with drive-thru capabilities, flexibility will become crucial, Bartlett notes.
“You're going out and competing with not just restaurant space—I mean banks and all these others for these hard corners and one-acre parcels,” Bartlett says. “And as developers come in and they develop these properties, there's a lot of opportunity for these 0.6, 0.7-point acres. I wouldn’t even call them leftovers, but they’re hard-to-use spaces. That's where our model sits in. Because if you have good visibility, you still have good ingress and regress, and can have your drive-thru, it could be a really nice addition to the developments where their main focus is selling these larger parcels.”
The emphasis on drive-thru fits into Schlotzsky’s overall goal to reach 400 stores by the end of 2023. Bartlett says the brand is focused on the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest and will look to fill in white space with both current and new franchisees.
Bartlett says he isn’t sure the restaurant industry will ever return to normal. There will be some adjustments, but for the most part, he believes consumers and have gotten used to the idea of convenience. Schlotzsky’s is simply preparing for that future.
“That's why we're leaning pretty hard into these models,” Bartlett says. “And obviously there's still going be a demand for consumers that want to come in and sit in and enjoy their meal at the table, and we'll have that for them. … But for our system to be successful, we have to recognize and understand that consumers are going to consume our food outside of our locations more than likely the majority of the time.”