Fast food's future? Taco Bell tries high-tech drive-thru in Brooklyn Park

New Taco Bell Defy restaurant in Brooklyn Park
This new Taco Bell Defy restaurant concept, opening Tuesday in Brooklyn Park, Minn., features four drive-thru lanes and no dining room. Food is prepared in the second-floor kitchen and then lowered to drivers waiting below.
Courtesy of Border Foods

A first-of-its-kind remake of fast-food restaurants opens in Brooklyn Park on Tuesday.

The new two-story, four-lane drive-thru Taco Bell Defy restaurant — located near 94th and Zane avenues north, just south of Minnesota Highway 610 — doesn't have a traditional dining room. Instead, it has a second-floor kitchen and a vertical lift system that will lower orders directly to drivers waiting below.

Three of the four lanes will be dedicated to customers picking up online orders, or delivery drivers. The fourth lane will be a traditional drive-thru lane.

New Taco Bell Defy restaurant in Brooklyn Park
The new Taco Bell Defy restaurant in Brooklyn Park features four drive-thru lanes and no dining room.
Courtesy of Border Foods

Lee Engler, founder of Border Foods, which operates more than 200 other Taco Bell restaurants in Minnesota and nearby states, said architects and consultants approached him as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and together they tried to imagine how business would change.

"Our dining room businesses really (have) never come back to what it was, and the majority of our business is now either in a digital format through mobile apps, or the drive-thru or third party aggregators like DoorDash. So we clearly believe that behaviors have changed," he told MPR News.

The goal of the new format is to deliver orders in two minutes or less. Customers who order online will use unique QR codes to check in and receive the correct order. In a statement, Taco Bell’s corporate president called it “the future” of fast food.

New Taco Bell Defy restaurant in Brooklyn Park
Food is prepared in the second-floor kitchen and then lowered to drivers waiting below.
Courtesy of Border Foods

Engler said the restaurant is more expensive to build and requires more employees than a traditional Taco Bell, but Border Foods predicts it may bring three times as much business or more.

Engler said they're already planning to open a second iteration in the Twin Cities next year.

Your support makes a difference.

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.