Fast food future? Las Vegas Taco Bell dumps dine-in

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – A Taco Bell in the Las Vegas valley could be a blueprint for fast food restaurants of the future, and it’s all about the drive-thru.

It’s a “grab and go” location that features two drive-thru lanes — one exclusively for delivery drivers — and no dining room. It’s smaller than most Taco Bell locations, and efficiency is a huge factor in how it serves customers.

The Diversified Restaurant Group opened the restaurant about a month ago, and Chief Operating Officer Todd Kelly said sales have picked up each week since the store’s debut. It’s just off Interstate 15 in the northern part of the Las Vegas valley in a neighborhood that mixes industrial and residential.

It’s a little strange to walk in and find no tables, but one of the biggest lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic was that a dining room isn’t an absolute necessity.

“As we came out of COVID, we were 100% drive-thru … we only got back about 10% of our consumers eating in our dining rooms,” Kelly said. Diversified has almost 300 Taco Bell restaurants, mostly in California and Nevada. Some of its locations are in Kansas City.

“This is new. It’s one-of-a-kind. But I don’t think it’s going to be one-of-a-kind long,” Kelly said. “I’m sure that based on what we’ve seen already that we’re going to be doing more of these locations because we can fit it on a smaller pad, cater to more customers and really get Taco Bell out there like everybody wants.”

Kelly said about 83% of Taco Bell’s business comes from drive-thrus. And delivery business has grown to about 15% of the total, he said.

“The dining room is almost obsolete at this point,” he said. “We can build the restaurant on a smaller footprint, saving costs, giving our consumers what they want now with two drive-thru lanes. Our delivery partners, they don’t have to wait in line, our customers who are in drive-thru don’t have to wait in line behind a large delivery order, so it’s really helped us cater to a lot of different consumers.”

Competitors are paying attention, Kelly said. “A lot of people are coming just to see what it’s about. We have a lot of our competitors coming in, looking and saying, ‘Oh, wow, these guys are cutting edge. Maybe we need to look at doing something similar to this.’ “

There’s also a patio outside for people to park and eat outside if they like.

Another innovation that has come to Taco Bell recently: walk-up windows, of which there are several scattered across locations in the same area. And the two-story “cantina” location on the Las Vegas Strip continues to be extremely popular, putting on 30 weddings a month “during a slow month,” Kelly said.

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