“Taco Bell Defy” could change the way fast-food restaurants are built and how quickly customers receive their food.

Naturally, the fast-food industry relies on getting menu items into customers’ hands quickly, and a new concept from Taco Bell aims to speed the process even further. 

Taco Bell Defy should open its first restaurant in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in summer 2022 and will offer an updated, two-story appearance with four drive-thru lanes. This location will also feature contactless food delivery through a lift system and communication with staff via video screens. 

The idea is to ensure customers get their food in a hurry without having to wait in drive-thru lines while avoiding face-to-face interactions with staff. From a commercial real estate perspective, this restaurant will have a reduced footprint because of its elevated design, making it possible to pack more customers and vehicles into a smaller area. 

Here’s a look at Taco Bell Defy and what it means for the future of fast-food service and design.

The pandemic and fast food

Today, the majority of fast food spots are single-story spaces with a kitchen, order counter, and dining room. Most establishments have one or two drive-thru lanes winding around the building, too. 

Generally, these venues cater to those seeking in-person dining or a quick to-go meal. But when the pandemic closed dining rooms in many locations, consumers began ordering from drive-thrus in record numbers. In fact, these lanes accounted for 44% of all off-premise food orders in the entire restaurant industry by December 2020.

This shift wasn’t without issues, however. A study by SeeLevel HX reports that drive-thru times slowed by an average of 29.8 seconds in 2020, so people were waiting longer for that food.

The solution for many restaurants was to create more drive-thru space, and chains like Checkers and Rally’s saw record sales in 2020 because of their double drive-thru setup. Other chains like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack are adding more lanes, while McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC have plans to make better use of their existing drive-thru space.

But Taco Bell Defy aims to take the expanded drive-thru idea to an entirely new level through its unique construction where the kitchen is elevated over the drive-thru lanes.

A look at the building

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Taco Bell Defy concept is the building, as it’s far different from traditional fast-food restaurants. 

The prototype structure will be about 3,000 square feet, similar in size to a typical Wendy’s but smaller than the average McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A. However, the kitchen will be raised a story above the ground with drive-thru spaces underneath it. This concept allows Taco Bell to fit four drive-thru lanes into the same footprint as a restaurant with a single lane—without giving up any kitchen space. 

In fact, the entire lifted portion of the restaurant will be a large kitchen, as there isn’t any indoor dining at Taco Bell Defy. This feature ensures staff has space to prepare food quickly enough to keep up with the demand of four drive-thrus. 

After ordering the food, it will arrive through a contactless proprietary lift system, so there’s no need to interact with workers after ordering. This concept could remain popular if the pandemic continues to drag on for years or if customers simply love the speed and convenience. 

What this means for CRE

If Taco Bell Defy is a success, it could pave the way for more fast food vendors to maximize their space by setting up similar structures. This concept is interesting for developers because it makes smaller plots of land usable for higher-volume food service—no parking or dining areas required. Taco Bell Defy will also rely heavily on online ordering, freeing up even more space because of less waiting. 

Morris Southeast Group continually monitors trends in construction, development, and throughout the commercial real estate industry. We can assist as you determine the best route while expanding your CRE portfolio. Contact Morris Southeast Group today at 954.474.1776 to learn more. Alternatively, you can reach Ken Morris at 954.240.4400 or kenmorris@morrissegroup.com.