Close to 70 percent of respondents in a recent Revenue Management Solutions survey reported visiting a quick-service drive-thru at least once in the past week. Although the channel is tracking below COVID peak (when other options were scarce) it remains materially ahead of 2019 usage. Beyond accelerated adoption brought on by the pandemic, one culprit is the continued rise of mobile ordering and the desire of consumers to access brands on their own terms. Call it choice in ordering channel as much as product.

Fast casuals, from McAlister’s to Chipotle to sweetgreen, Noodles & Company, CAVA, and far more, are racing toward this future. In many cases, thanks to mobile and order ahead, it’s manifested in the form of pickup windows instead of traditional speakerbox drive-thrus. Even Pizza Hut invested via “Hut Lanes.” A customer who orders in advance shows up, picks up, and moves along. Chipotle once claimed its “Chipotlane” experience could clock as quick as 12 seconds. The overarching concept is guests now have “kiosks” in the palms of their hands. So the evolution draws from pickup shelf to window as restaurants work to meet omnichannel habits.

Panera Bread on Wednesday announced another approach, which works in reverse to some extent, but follows this same vein. The brand launched what it’s calling “Drive-Thru Pick-Up, a process that combines “the ease of the digital ordering experience with the comfort and convenience of the drive-thru window.”

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Guests have the option to select “Drive-Thru Pickup” when they order ahead on Panera’s app or website. Doing so enables a guest to roll past the menuboard ordering experience and straight to the window. They’ll announced their name at the speaker and pull ahead. 

To celebrate the national launch, starting June 1 and running through June 30, MyPanera members ordering Drive-Thru Pick-Up will receive $5 off any order of $15 or more by using code 5OFFDTPICKUP at checkout. In some ways, the option gives Panera a convenience lure to promote signups in addition to typical incentives, like discounts and birthday surprises. Panera’s app boasts roughly 53 million members and has been live since 2010.

Digital today represents more than 50 percent of Panera’s sales. The chain welcomes north of 3 million average transactions per week through app, kiosk, and web. 

Stores that offer Drive-Thru Pick-Up will still feature standard drive-thru for those who don’t order ahead. “Panera pioneered the idea of digital ordering in the restaurant industry, and for years, our guests have loved the option to order ahead and pick their items up on the Rapid Pick-Up® shelf,” Chris Correnti, SVP, channels and guest experience, said in a statement. “Now we’re extending that convenience to the drive-thru, giving our guests another fast and convenient way to get their favorite Panera meal.”

Drive-Thru Pick-Up expands Panera’s suite to in-café kiosks, Rapid Pick-Up, and Contactless Dine-In (order from the table).

Last August, Panera began testing AI technology at drive-thrus in the greater Rochester, New York, area. The stores implemented OpenCity’s voice ordering tech “Tori” in an effort to cut down wait times, improve accuracy, and allow employees to focus on tasks outside of order taking.

The brand also continues to roll a NextGen design that debuted in Ballwin, Missouri. The 3,500-square-foot box, built in tandem with ChangeUp, the design agency that’s worked with Jimmy John’s, Sonic Drive-In, and others, on prototypes, focuses on connectivity inside and outside the location. Read more here. Additionally, there’s a double drive-thru lane setup with one dedicated to mobile orders, or “Rapid Pick-Up.” 

Drive Thru, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Growth, Operations, Story, Technology, Panera Bread