“We put a major emphasis on optimizing kitchen efficiency. It is the production engine of our brand, so each new restaurant size scales around the kitchen,” said Chad Gretzema, Del Taco’s chief operating officer. “The operational enhancements in the kitchen as well as in the front of the house strengthen our four-wall economics, and align us with our franchise partners’ top priorities while we drive new unit growth.”
Beyond new locations, Del Taco plans to apply the fresh design to current restaurants as a remodeling opportunity.
"First and foremost, we needed a design that was going to support our aggressive growth goals,” Billy Jensen, an operating partner of Jetz Foods, a multi-unit franchise group in the Southeast, said in a statement. “In site selection, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model doesn’t work because every market is different.”
Cappasola noted in October Del Taco’s prototype would give it a “real concept” to consider as it hunts real estate, company and franchise, in the next three to five years.
A key unlock, as mentioned before, is the ability to get into real estate outlets like conversions and smaller parcels of land. In turn, opening infill scenarios that it couldn’t penetrate before with standard drive-thru prototypes.
Similar to Starbucks’ and Chipotle’s recent portfolio diversification, it allows the brand to rethink what a saturated market truly looks like. And that’s going to become a more frequent talking point as COVID clears and store closures leave conversion-ready real estate behind.
In Chipotle’s case, the company said in December it was planning a “Chipotlane”-only restaurant in Kansas City. Previously, Chipotle viewed the older market as mature and even on the verge of bursting. But digital gains gave Chipotle a chance to reimagine trade areas and how it could serve guests without relying on its historic real estate lineup.
The same is true of the brand's digital-only “Chipotle Digital Kitchen” located just outside the gate of the military academy in Highland Falls, New York. The military academy nearby created a heavy delivery, order-ahead, and pickup proposition—a trade area Chipotle would have ignored if not for the fresh model.
Del Taco completed four remodels at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, with a focus on consumer-facing elements. It saw compelling top-line results, but paused due to COVID. Four were scheduled for Q4. Again, centering on streamlining costs, minimizing downtime, and optimizing guest-facing elements.
At the end of Q3, company dining rooms remained closed, but Del Taco said it was able to make up for lost traffic through off-premises gains.
The restaurant plans to lean even further in 2021 by placing employees outside near drive-thru lanes to enhance throughput at high-volume stores. The chain wants to also leverage the performance of its delivery channels and app to test curbside pickup and develop more bundles to grow its share of party-size occasions.