Whataburger announced Tuesday the opening of its first digital-only restaurant, catering to consumers’ continuing shift toward off-premises.
Referred to as the Whataburger Digital Kitchen, the Austin, Texas-based restaurant is exclusively off-premises and features a mobile order lane instead of a traditional drive-thru. The store is completely cashless and solely relies on customers using the website or app to order meals.
“Making Whataburger quicker and more convenient for our Guests means fully embracing the digital restaurant experience—but not forgetting who we are at our core: A Hometown Whataburger,” Whataburger president and CEO Ed Nelson said in a statement. “Our Austin Guests were early to embrace other digital innovations, making it a perfect fit for our first Whataburger Digital Kitchen.”
In addition to the website/app, customers are able to order food from two self-service kiosks outside. Guests also have the option of picking up their food through exterior, weather-resistant food lockers as opposed to the mobile order lane.
The Whataburger Digital Kitchen, which operates 24/7 and 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day), serves breakfast from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. It does not have a dining room or curbside pickup, but it will be staffed by 50 employees.
With its prototype, Whataburger follows in the footsteps of brands like Wingstop and Panera, which opened their own digital-only restaurants last year. Wingstop debuted its cashless store in Dallas, Texas, in a 1,300-square-foot space—about 400 square feet less than its typical size. The location prioritizes carryout customers and delivery drivers, with a lobby area that doesn’t have dining tables. A few months later, Panera revealed a similar move. Called Panera To Go, it features a slimmer front of house where customers and third-party delivery drivers pick up their orders from to-go shelves. The prototype is intended for densely urban markets.
Whataburger earned $3.3 billion in U.S. sales in 2022 and $3.73 million in AUV. It now has roughly 950 restaurants, making it the ninth-largest burger chain in the country.