Taco Bell Ditching Drive-Thrus in Cities

Over the next five years, Taco Bell plans to open more than 300 restaurants without drive-thrus or parking, like this one in downtown Cleveland. Photo: Tom Horsman
Over the next five years, Taco Bell plans to open more than 300 restaurants without drive-thrus or parking, like this one in downtown Cleveland. Photo: Tom Horsman

It’s 2017 and you have to take positive news where you can find it.

With that in mind, consider this development: Taco Bell is chasing customers who’ll walk to get their fast food fix. The chain is moving away from drive-thrus, reports Devon Walsh at Food & Wine, even though orders from the driver’s seat account for most of its sales. Over the next five years, Taco Bell plans to open more than 300 locations without drive-thrus in major cities.

Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL wonders if other fast food chains will follow suit — and what the effect will be on neighborhood restaurants:

Of course, this could hurt locally-owned Mexican restaurants in areas too urban for a typical Taco Bell. Taco Bell is part of Yum Brands — KFC & Pizza Hut are corporate cousins — maybe these will also develop an urban model? Expect other chains to also look to urban areas for growth — adding new suburban locations is no longer a viable strategy.

Taco Bell recently opened one of these “cantinas” without parking or a drive-thru in downtown Cleveland, right next to the terminus of the Healthline bus rapid transit route. Say what you will about the maker of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, it’s a big change in the way fast food sellers have typically operated in Cleveland, where their locations are almost exclusively in car-oriented suburbs.

More recommended reading today: Writing at Medium, Darin Givens urges Atlanta leaders to address inequality and dangerous traffic conditions simultaneously. And Stop and Move posts an update on the agonizingly slow construction of a not-very-complex Fresno bus rapid transit project.

  • JarekFA

    Obligatory given the subject matter: https://youtu.be/KrlxU9kx_m0?t=1m34s

  • TakeFive

    If I had the choice to walk to a Taco Bell…. Sorry feet, you’ll have to wait for your regular walk; I’m driving to my favorite neighborhood Mexican dive restaurant. Now my Hispanic friends, I’m sure, will still use the drive-up at McDonalds since they cook better Mexican food at home.

    Perfect, I suspect, for the young millennials though.

  • Vooch

    thank you free market !

  • Joe R.

    I hope this means more locations. The nearest Taco Bell is over 2 miles from me. I’d like to see one within easy walking distance.

  • Kwyjibo

    There is one of these in State College, PA (home to Penn State).

    It’s on a walkable downtown street. Has outdoor seating. Not a bad setup.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Since Taco Bell Cantinas serve alcohol, it’s a good thing that they’re not encouraging people to drive to them.

  • AMH

    I believe that should be Yum! Brands.

    I’m no fan of fast-food chains, but I suppose this is a positive step. Anything is better than this:

    “https://goo.gl/maps/CBkqxyi4gU42”

  • Anne A

    Or this – https://www.google.com/maps/place/1700+95th+St,+Chicago,+IL+60643/@41.7211047,-87.6652134,160m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x880e2573cf74677f:0x80758d690975016b!8m2!3d41.7212791!4d-87.6649719

    This intersection is a hairy mess because it has 3 fast food restaurants (including Taco Bell), plus a Walgreens. Note that Walgreens and McDonald’s each have 2 driveways across the street from each other – within 100 feet of the intersection. Whoever approved that should be smacked upside the head.

  • shamelessly

    A few years back, Trader Joe’s wanted to open a location in my neighborhood in SF. They chose a storefront on a subway line, several bus lines, and a bike route, and in the midst of a dense, walkable neighborhood, but insisted that they had to have a parking lot as well. The neighborhood pushed back, and TJ’s pulled the plug. Fast forward to this year, where they’re preparing to open a new location in an even more transit-rich area of SF, and no longer insisting on parking. I hope this is part of a larger trend of chains learning how to let go of their suburban thinking when they are expanding into dense, walkable, bikeable, and transit-rich areas.

  • baklazhan

    It’s already open, actually.

    Story I heard was that the previous location did have parking, but the city wanted them to have a plan to avoid having lines of cars and delivery trucks backing up onto the street when the lot was full (which is fair, since it happens all the time at their other locations) and they weren’t able to do that.

  • Jacob Wilson

    If we’re thanking the free market for this we need to also thank it for the tens of thousands of auto oriented drive thrus that exist now right?

  • ahwr

    Taco Bell Will Open 50 NYC Locations in Next Five Years

    https://ny.eater.com/2017/9/15/16314420/taco-bell-nyc

  • what_eva

    It’s mind boggling that the owner of that McD’s hasn’t sold that property. Has to have been offered a crapload of money.

  • Joe R.

    Hopefully one of those 50 will be fairly close to me. Along Kissena Blvd. near Queens College might be a good spot. I think there are still some vacant stores there.

  • Andrew

    Trader Joe’s has multiple New York City locations with no parking, and has for years. They are all doing quite well.

  • Thank zoning that prevented Taco Bell from building their typical model everywhere.

  • Vooch

    government subsidized mass motoring which led to drive thrus

  • ohnonononono

    I think the number of major chains that will locate parking-free in walkable neighborhoods is greater than the number that won’t. They don’t want to be pioneers, but they will see the wisdom of going parking-free in existing successful walkable business corridors. Even Taco Bell, while not having the huge presence they’re apparently envisioning, has had a handful of Manhattan locations with no parking for years. The chains that are completely inflexible are in the minority.

  • ohnonononono

    Is that the last McDonald’s in Manhattan with its own dedicated off-street parking? There was a McDonald’s with a parking lot at 34th and 10th for many years that was popular with cabbies and was obviously a location that saw more auto traffic than foot traffic, but it’s now gone as that formerly-nowheresville neighborhood becomes an actual urban place called Hudson Yards. Hundreds of McD’s locations in walkable neighborhoods in the Five Boroughs do not have any parking.

  • ohnonononono

    I know nothing about zoning and land use regs in Chicago but would they be allowed to build a fast food restaurant with no off-street parking in that location?

  • Chris

    Smartly capitalizing on the student population during their inebriated walks home. Go PSU!

  • elvevaag

    and outside of the five boroughs–parking-less McDonald’s are the norm in Hudson County as well.

  • elvevaag

    Whole Foods is probably one of the worst offenders.

    Even in transit-rich, dense Brooklyn, their store (in Gowanus) looks like a scene out of suburbia, complete with a surface parking lot.

    Whole Foods is also looking into a store in Journal Square, a Jersey City neighborhood with a 24/7 rapid transit connection to Manhattan (two stops away) and a WalkScore of 99. They’ve talked with several developers, but all the developers recognize that Whole Food’s parking requirements (5 stalls per 1000 sqft of space) are absurd and don’t make sense for such a dense walkable area. The developers generally prefer to build no parking (since none is required, as in Long Island City and Manhattan), but would be willing to compromise on a smaller parking lot. But Whole Foods has been pretty uncompromising.

    What’s frustrating is that they already have a couple of stores in Manhattan that are parking-free.

  • Guy Ross

    If you chalk that up to laissez-faire economics, I’ve got a twenty-book-deep reading list that you need to read.

    I’d start with ‘The High Cost of Free Parking’. Go from there…..

  • AMH

    It may well be the last. It doesn’t appear to be going anywhere–I was amazed to see the brand-new granite curb preserve all of the curb cuts even as the street is rebuilt. I’m sure they’ll get plenty of business from the students at the new Columbia campus, but they won’t be driving and would undoubtedly appreciate a nicer streetscape. There’s a lot of bike traffic here as well, and the driveways are a real hazard.

  • ohnonononono

    Chains don’t want to be pioneers when it comes to building walkable neighborhoods. There wasn’t an established walkable retail strip around the Gowanus Whole Foods that already provided enough well-heeled foot traffic for them to see the wisdom in a parking-free (or even parking-light) store. It’s still a fairly desolate area. Nothing like the parking-free stores in Manhattan.

    In the case of Journal Square, while there is a ton of foot traffic, not enough of it is well-heeled enough for Whole Foods. In that case, the neighborhood just needs more wealthy people before Whole Foods will see parking-free as a viable option. WF likely sees their market area for a JSQ store as the entire JC area and imagines people driving in from places like Bayonne or Hoboken. They’re probably not wrong that their products are too high priced to attract most SQJ transit riders, although trends are in their favor in the future.

  • Jason

    In Santa Monica, they had a store set up that it seemed like it was trying to be a pedestrian-focused store. But the registers were back by the parking lot entrance (and this was a relatively small parking lot, certainly by LA standards). And one time I heard them explicitly refer to it as “the front” of the store. Apparently the pedestrian-focused entrance on the relatively busy pedestrian corner was the “back” of the store in their minds.

    They recently closed the store and view it as having been exchanged for a Whole Foods 365 nearly 2 miles away. The closest Whole Foods stores are 1 and 1.5 miles away. A lot of people shopped at this store solely by foot. Their response to me on Twitter (after ignoring me the first time) expressing that the new 365 store does jack shit for their customers who don’t have cars was “they can take the bus to our other nearby locations”.

    Most buses in Santa Monica don’t run better than every 20 minutes. Several run 30 minute headways all day. And even if they did, yeah, that’s totally how pedestrians are going to shop, taking the bus to the supermarket, instead of walking in several times a week on their way home.

  • Jason

    Trader Joe’s is known to not want to be surrounded by seas of parking. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a parking requirement being imposed on them by the city that you weren’t aware of.

  • elvevaag

    I think you’re giving too much credit to Whole Foods. From what I gather, it’s likely they chose the Gowanus location over any of the countless walkable retail strips in Brooklyn precisely *because* it offered them the ability to build their giant surface parking lot.

    As far as Jersey City, their original plan was to build the store in the wealthier area around Grove Street near the brownstones, and even then they were insisting on almost 6 spaces per 1,000 sq ft of retail space (about 240 spaces). To give you an idea of how much parking that is, they were asking for 4 floors of parking over a 1-floor store! How is that appropriate literally across the street from a rapid transit stop, with thousands of wealthy patrons within walking distance?

    It’s as if Whole Foods HQ doesn’t recognize the difference between Brooklyn and Nassau County…

    Hopefully they’ll start treating urban areas with more respect now that they’ve been acquired by Amazon, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Jason

    I’ve never been able to figure out how to get Google Maps to embed on here, but go to the link below to see what I’m talking about. The pin is on the building where the store used to be. I encourage you to drop into Street View to fully see just how ridiculous it was that they considered the parking lot side of the building the front of the store.

    https://goo.gl/maps/aQQcYBnNwby

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