ShackBurger, fries and chocolate shake ordered. The countdown was on. This was opening day of Shake Shack's first drive-through, located in Maple Grove. Would the team meet Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti's goal of six to eight minutes from order?
Success. Six minutes for this order, with the burger hot, fries warm and chocolate shake cold.
The goal was met while the restaurant was busy, with a double line of cars during Monday's lunch hour. Reaching the goal day in and day out, though, will be the true test as Shake Shack pursues a delicate balance of managing its foodie origins and making burgers to order while it takes on drive-through, one of the ultimate acts of convenience in American life.
"We want to offer the best food made to order," Garutti said Monday morning before the Maple Grove location opened for business. "I'm not sure anyone is doing no hormone, no antibiotic beef at a drive-through."
The pandemic ramped up drive-through business. As those sales remain strong, national chains are responding by adding lanes and more ways to use apps to order ahead for pickup with express drive-through lanes.
A new Taco Bell concept with four drive-through lanes is in the works for Brooklyn Park. Culver's also started adding two-lane drive-throughs last year at some locations. And McDonald's said it's testing new options for takeout customers.
Shake Shack, which has about 220 locations in the U.S. and 100 in other countries, plans to add up to 10 more drive-throughs in 2022.
Maple Grove will be a testing site for the company. Orders are fulfilled in a separate kitchen from those for people who walk in for sit-down or takeout service.
Workers typically assemble and cook orders after they are placed, leading customers to wait a bit longer than at most other fast-food providers. To expedite the traffic, Shake Shack plans to dispatch employees to take orders and collect payment at busy times.
Self-described "cheeseburger and fries people," Tracy Gaffney and her husband, Jon, of Maple Grove, were the first drive-through customers to arrive.
"Amazing," she said, after finishing her double SmokeShack burger. "One hundred percent lived up to the hype and by far the best burger I've had in a long time."
The success of the chain's Southdale location during the pandemic convinced Shake Shack executives that the Twin Cities market was the right place for this trial run. "We wanted to find a place in America where we can learn how to do the drive-through experience," Garutti said.
Acclaimed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer launched this fast-food phenomenon 20 years ago from a hot dog cart in Manhattan's Madison Square Park. Shake Shack went public in 2015.
During the pandemic, Shake Shack orders via app, delivery service or self-order kiosks shot up to 80% of the business from 20%, driving the acceleration of the drive-through strategy, Garutti said.
He never expects to be the fastest, given that the six- to eight-minute goal is on the industry's longer side. "You're not getting the burger 30 minutes after they're cooked," he said.