The Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant is all set to open its first Digital kitchen on Saturday. The digital-only restaurant will be opened in the Highland Falls location of New York. This is the direct result of growing online sales in the industry due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As the pandemic has impacted the regular dine-in restaurants, online sales have increased in a huge way, and many customers are now comfortable with ordering online rather than sitting at a restaurant. Managing social distancing becomes a huge problem in crowded restaurants, and most people are still not confident to visit such locations with friends and family members. They would rather order food online and sit at home with family than visiting a restaurant.
Considering this growing trend of online sales in the food industry, Chipotle plans to enter into the digital kitchen segment with this restaurant in New York. The company also has plans to enter other urban areas in the near future with a full-size restaurant.
Company executives said that digital sales have tripled over the last quarter, and this is an encouraging sign to start such digital restaurants. The new social distancing norms make it difficult for customers to visit hotels and restaurants with family. In this situation, the demand for digital access has increased a lot in the last few months. Companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill want to cash in on such growing demand, and they are exploring new ways to provide easy access to the customers.
The unique thing about the Chipotle Digital Kitchen is that it will not have a dining room like the usual restaurant. Not only that, it does not even have a front service line similar to other fast food outlets. They will instead serve customers through the Chipotle app and official portal. Customers can order the food online through the website or the app and pick up the food from the lobby of the restaurant. The company has tie-ups with many delivery partners, and they offer service to most parts of the city.
The company executives said that they are also capable of handling large catering orders for events and corporate parties. In this way, the restaurant will not have issues with social distancing as there will be less crowding at the location, and customers will not come in direct contact with the staff members. The customer can directly pick the food from the lobby without going inside the restaurant. This is safe for both the customers as well as the staff members as there is limited physical contact during the transaction.
During the initial months of this year, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown made it difficult for the restaurants to stay open and many of them had to shut down for a long time. However, as things began to ease during the second half of the year, online orders were allowed in several cities, and customers were more than happy to order food in this manner. Even customers did not want to risk getting infected when they visited crowded restaurants, and they found comfort with the online ordering apps.
Chipotle was early to cash in on the trend, and they started accepting orders through Facebook messenger during the months of June and July. Later on, it was also extended to other platforms that provided more options to customers to order food from the restaurant. Since then, the sales have increased by a huge margin, and a majority of the sales now come from online platforms. Company executives feel that this is a changing trend across the industry, and everyone will get used to such modes of ordering food in the near future.
The National Restaurant Association that monitors the food industry said in a report that virtual restaurants will become more common in the near future as it is a cost-effective option for the restaurant owners and also provides them with easy access to start the business. This is true in many other urban regions as the restaurants can start a business with fewer formalities when they opt for a complete online order format. In this way, customers will not sit at the location and eat food. This will be safe for both the customers as well as the restaurant staff in times of pandemic as there is no need to worry about social distancing norms and other stringent guidelines issued to the restaurant industry.
Apart from that, the cost of operations is yet another major factor that is driving many restaurants in this direction. With the virtual restaurant format, the area required to operate the business becomes very less as the customers are no longer sitting in the restaurants. They can easily remove the dining area and only have sufficient space for the kitchen and the lobby area. In this way, restaurants save big time on the rents paid for the locations in hotspots. Many restaurants have a huge burden of high rents in cities like New York, where property prices are very high.
When the restaurants opt for the virtual format, they will also save on maintenance as there is no need for cleaning and maintenance staff that is common with regular restaurants. All they need is a good space for a lobby where customers can come and collect the food parcels. In this way, the restaurants can operate with fewer resources.
Chipotle is not the only restaurant that is working in this direction, and many other restaurants are thinking about similar formats in the near future. Many customers are comfortable with this arrangement as they can easily order food online through various apps or online portals and collect the food parcel at the location without any hassles. In this way, there is less risk of getting in contact with other customers, and they can stay safe during the pandemic. The trend is likely to continue for many more months as there is no sign of a proven vaccine for the coronavirus. Restaurants like Chipotle can continue to provide service through such modes till the situation returns to normal across the country.