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06/08/2022

Taco Bell's Drive-Thru of the Future Debuts

Taco Bell's Defy concept features four drive-thru lanes including one lane for traditional drive-thru service. Guests who order via the mobile app can skip the line and scan their personal QR code on digital check-in screens.
Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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Taco Bell Defy exterior

Taco Bell's newest drive-thru concept, coined Taco Bell Defy, opened its four-lane drive-thru in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, on June 7.

Taco Bell and franchisee Border Foods teamed up to reimagine the drive-thru and broke ground on the four-lane outpost last summer.

Two Minutes or Less

The first of its kind two-story model delivers innovative technology and design, including a proprietary vertical lift to transport food orders items straight from the kitchen to guests. The goal: to deliver orders to hungry guests in two minutes or less.

"Taco Bell Defy is an incredible innovation for our brand, and one that's meeting our consumer in a really unique way. For decades we've been committed to providing a fast, safe and friendly drive-thru experience; now with our bold goal of creating a two-minute or less drive-thru experience for customers of this concept, Taco Bell Defy is the future," said Mike Grams, Taco Bell President and Global COO. "We're thankful for our incredible 36-year partnership with Border Foods and feel like Taco Bell Defy is a culmination of years of success between our teams, along with the expertise of local partners like Vertical Works who helped make this possible."

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Taco Bell Defy vertical lift
Taco Bell Defy features advancement in digital to meet consumers' need for speed, including including a proprietary vertical lift to transport orders straight from the kitchen to guests.

Taco Bell Defy is loaded with new technologies. From digital check-in screens for mobile order customers' unique QR codes, to a two-way audio and video technology service for customers to talk to team members on the second floor, Taco Bell Defy includes many features that could show up in future Taco Bell restaurants in the US. In the meantime, and in partnership with long-time franchisee Border Foods, the teams are considering potential retrofits that could be made to several of Taco Bell Defy's neighboring restaurants.

New Contactless Pickup

When a customer preorders on the app for pickup up Taco Bell Defy, they get a QR code.  When they arrive on prem, they scan their unique QR code on the digital check-in screen.  "The digital check-in screen that scans mobile order customers’ unique QR code is a first for the brand," a Taco Bell spokesperson tells HT. Taco Bell Defy boasts many features that could show up in future Taco Bell restaurants in the U.S.

Unlike the Taco Bells of yesteryear, this concept does not have a dining room. "Taco Bell Defy is redefining the drive-thru experience as consumers know it, so fans are encouraged to utilize the four lane drive-thru model. While there isn’t a formal dining room, fans can step inside the restaurant to pick-up online orders, choose their favorites from a digital kiosk, or order with the help of a team member," a Taco Bell spokesperson tells HT.  

Taco Bell knows what it means to deliver on craveability… and do so quickly. According to Statista, Taco Bell's drive-thru times average 268 seconds, making it the fast QSR drive-thru in the industry. Taco Bell Defy aims to reduce service times to two minutes or less, all while providing fans with a fun, easy and seamless drive-thru experience. To do this, the restaurant model will solve many challenges of traditional drive-thrus. Regardless of how fans order their favorites, Taco Bell Defy has four lanes to accommodate them:

  • Pre-orders: Fans who order via the Taco Bell app will score, skip-the-line service. For ultimate ease and convenience, the Taco Bell App can be downloaded ahead of time by visiting the Apple App Store or Google Play.
  • Delivery Drivers: For those ordering through a third-party delivery partner, drivers will be able to process orders with the goal of providing an even faster delivery time in getting tacos straight to fans.
  • Traditional Drive-Thru: For those who can't resist the purple glowing sign from the street and prefer to drop in for their favorite menu items, there's one lane dedicated solely for this purpose.

Lee Engler, co-founder and CEO of Border Foods, said Taco Bell Defy's first location "is a creative, technological solution for a faster, contactless experience for as many Taco Bell fans as possible and is poised to be the future of quick-service dining."

Since its launch in 1962, Taco Bell has aimed to be a disruptor within its industry. In the 70s, drive-thrus were introduced to appeal to shifted consumer behaviors, and since then Taco Bell has introduced innovative restaurant design concepts like Cantina and Go Mobile models. As the brand celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, Taco Bell Defy symbolizes a significant drive-thru evolution, with an advancement in digital to meet consumers' need for speed.  

Minneapolis-based Vertical Works Inc. merged innovation, design and manufacturing to concept and build much of what fans can expect from Defy, and in doing so reinvented the drive-thru experience. Vertical Works is powered by WORKSHOP and PD Instore.  

"We applied our innovative approach to problem solving to create a brand new way for consumers to access fast food," said Josh Hanson, co-founder of Vertical Works and CEO and founder of WORKSHOP. "We know today's consumer expects a convenient and memorable experience, and the Taco Bell Defy concept delivers on both."

Mike Strommen, co-founder of Vertical Works and CEO of PD Instore, explained the Border Foods team was facing challenges with streamlining the journey from order to meal hand-off, and the Vertical Works team presented a solution to not only address this, but also deliver a more impactful customer experience overall. "Taco Bell Defy's unique design combined with innovative technology delivers food to consumers faster and more efficiently."