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Watertown restaurants move to drive-thru window craze

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WATERTOWN — The Taco Bell on Arsenal Street will be the third local fast food restaurant adding another drive-thru window in response to changing market patterns following the pandemic.

The local Taco Bell is going through the approval process with both the city and Jefferson County planning boards to create a second drive-up window.

Taco Bell operators need to receive a site plan approval for the change and a zoning variance for a 5-foot setback requirement.

The existing single drive-thru lane becomes so busy at peak times that vehicles overflow onto Arsenal Street, said county senior planner Andy Nevin.

The operators of the Taco Bell are spending a lot of money for a long traffic lane around the restaurant that leads to the new drive-thru window, so Mr. Nevin assumes that the company has determined that customers like the convenience and quickness of using a drive-up window.

“With the pandemic, a lot of restaurants’ lobbies were closed and people had to use drive-thru windows,” he said.

Taco Bell’s decision follows Chipotle Mexican Grill adding a drive-thru window at the restaurant in City Center, a sprawling commercial plaza on Western Boulevard.

Customers will soon be able to order their burritos and other Mexican-inspired meals from Chipotle without getting out of their vehicles.

Customers will place their orders through the Chipotle mobile app or website, then pick them up in what the national restaurant chain calls a “Chipotlane,” all without having to leave their cars.

Just down the street, the Panera Bread restaurant is relocating to a former TGI Fridays solely because it wants to add the capability of a drive-thru window.

Danny Klein, editorial director for QSR (Quick Serve Restaurants) magazine, a publication for the fast-food industry, said national food chains are making changes to accommodate customer market patterns after dining rooms were forced to close at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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