On June 7, 2022, Taco Bell opened its newest location in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Unlike other Taco Bell locations, the Brooklyn Park restaurant offers exclusively drive-through services with no accompanying dining option. Even more intriguing, the kitchen is designed above, as opposed to next to, the drive-through pick-up windows.

Dubbed “Taco Bell Defy”, the new “floating” restaurant represents the first location of the international chain’s quest to “redefin[e] drive-thrus as customers know it.” Specifically, the goal of Taco Bell Defy is to reduce drive-through service times from an average of 4.5 minutes to 2 minutes or less. In pursuit of this objective, the new location gives each service lane a specific purpose, including three pre-order pick-up lanes for third-party delivery services and customers using the Taco Bell app, and one traditional on-site order and pick-up lane. The two-story model boasts a proprietary “vertical lift” that delivers Taco Bell menu items from the kitchen above to the car below.

While restaurants without dine-in services (otherwise known as “Zombie Kitchens”), are not an entirely novel use, Taco Bell Defy takes the concept to the next level by specifically accommodating pre-order and food-delivery services. National trends show that digital fast-food apps and third-party delivery services (e.g., DoorDash, Grubhub, etc.) continue to grow and thrive at the expense of the traditional drive-through experience.

Whether Taco Bell’s innovative concept actually redefines the fast-food industry is to be seen. Nevertheless, it is important for municipalities to remain aware of the potential for rapid growth of new uses, especially in a heavy-lifting sector of the economy like food services. Traditional zoning regulations for restaurants generally contemplate a hybrid of dine-in and drive-through services consistent with existing fast-food models. As a result, it is not uncommon for zoning ordinances to heavily regulate or restrict the number or dimensions of service lanes, or to universally require off-street parking facilities. Obviously, those provisions could over-park a use like Taco Bell Defy, which requires parking only for its employees.

Simply put, ordinances by and large are not equipped to address a new restaurant concept like Taco Bell Defy. Depending on whether “floating” restaurants gain traction, municipalities should consider amending their ordinances to protect the welfare of their citizens and to provide regulatory certainty to potential developers.

If you have questions regarding this post or zoning issues generally, please contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Real Estate Group for assistance.