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03/23/2021

Dine-ins, Drive-Thrus, and Digital: Taco Bell is Redefining the Restaurant of the Future

The brand looks ahead to its next 1,000 locations and beyond, planning for an ever-evolving future with industry-defying restaurant formats.
a sign on the side of a building
Taco Bell is reinventing what it means to be a restaurant of the future with a multitude of new design formats, including this Go Mobile in Ponca City, Oklahoma, as it plans to have 10,000 restaurants open globally this decade.

Taco Bell is looking long-term as it reinvents what it means to be a restaurant of the future. On track to have 10,000 restaurants open globally this decade, the brand is leveraging a multitude of design formats to enhance and redefine both the customer and team member QSR experience in a constantly shifting world.

In collaboration with its franchisees, Taco Bell has continued to evolve its restaurants on an ongoing basis. Back in 2015, the brand saw that customers were eager for urban locations without drive-thrus; so, they developed Cantinas. In navigating COVID-19, Taco Bell again adapted with improvements to digital and drive-thru offerings that prioritized safety and efficiency. Now, new builds and remodels will take modernization to new levels from coast to coast.

"Prioritizing our development plans continues to be a major focus for 2021, especially as we look towards building our next 1,000 restaurants," said Mike Grams, Taco Bell's President and Global COO. "Our restaurant portfolio continues to rapidly evolve, striking a crucial balance between being technology-forward and social-oriented. Even amid the challenging pandemic, we are continuing to grow due in large part to the strength in our franchise partnerships as well as the flexible formats we offer."

With social experiences drastically changing over the past year, Taco Bell has been quick to adapt based on both current and anticipated dining behaviors. Earlier this year, Taco Bell and franchisee Diversified Restaurant Group collaborated to open the first ever drive-thru Cantina in Danville, California, merging proven Cantina success with the prioritization of drive-thru service during the pandemic. The restaurant is the first of its kind with features such as an outdoor firepit and game area, as well as full bar offerings for dine-in guests once it's safe to do so.

"I've been in the real estate and development business for decades," said SG Ellison, President of Diversified Restaurant Group. "The partnership we have with Taco Bell is unique—the brand empowers us franchisees with both autonomy and support, which has allowed my business to not just build traditional restaurants, but create destinations such as our flagship Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, as well as our Cantinas in Pacifica and now Danville."

While the brand will continue building destination restaurants, it will simultaneously prioritize digital elements to maximize efficiency for on-the-go customers. One upcoming opening in the heart of Manhattan will be kiosk-focused for a completely digital yet in-person experience. Taco Bell will also continue rolling out its Go Mobile concept that began testing last year, which features minimalistic physical spaces and dual drive-thru lanes. This national concept rollout has excited franchisees, especially Tina Reagan. As President and COO of franchise K-Mac Enterprises, Reagan is a leader in remodeling older Taco Bell restaurants, and has recently been focusing on Go Mobile.

"While new development is important, so is remodeling our existing restaurants to fit the needs of each trade area's customers and surrounding community," said Reagan. "We are always looking to evolve to meet our guests needs, and transforming to be more digital-forward is no exception. In the last year, we've remodeled 3 restaurants into our Go Mobile format, and plan to both remodel and build over 30 additional Go Mobile restaurants by year end."

The Go Mobile concept's concierge service of team members, known as "bellhops," is intended to improve drive-thru speeds even further with tablet ordering and curbside pickup. Expect to see up to 1,000 bellhops across the U.S. by the summer.

Lee Engler, CEO of Border Foods, is another Taco Bell franchisee pushing the boundaries of what future restaurants will look and feel like. In addition to working with the brand, Lee and his team invited experts outside of the QSR industry to help collaborate on an industry-defying restaurant, set to be revealed in the coming months.

"As great as the drive-thru is, a fundamental flaw is bottleneck at the windows," said Engler. "Our team has set out to creatively solve for that like no one else has done before, and we're thrilled by positive early responses to our one-of-a-kind concept coming to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota."

With leading-edge offerings, Taco Bell's new locations will join the ranks of other iconic Taco Bells, from the wedding chapel in Las Vegas to the beachside spot in Pacifica. With 2021 development growth anticipated to outpace that of 2020, Taco Bell has built its expansion plans with long-term flexibility, franchisee insights and innovation as cornerstones, so that everyone can create delicious memories now and in all the years to come.