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Here's why KFC is trialling a world first drive-thru only concept in Newcastle

Sarah Basford

KFC, or Kentucky Fried Chicken as it has recently asserted in its branding, has long been a staple of the Australian fast food diet. But the fast food giant is cooking up a new breed of store – and it has regional Australia in its sights.

The company is opening up a new drive-thru only store in Newcastle’s Broadmeadow, the first of its kind in the world, and the concept will be a testing ground for whether the project will expand to the rest of the country.

You might well ask why KFC has gone for Newcastle instead of one of Australia’s capital cities.

Chief Development Officer of KFC’s South Pacific arm, Inara Gravitis, told Business Insider Australia it just made the most sense.

“Novocastrians love KFC. We've got a number of stores up here already, but they all perform really well,” Gravitis said. "Part of the concept was also around trying to find a smaller footprint site. We actually already had this piece of land. So, that helped as well.”

That smaller site, almost exactly equidistant between two existing stores, is still big enough to fit five drive-through lanes, a kitchen with a payment and collection window, as well as a number of parking spaces for those wanting to order at the store.

Customers will be able to put their order in through the app or website, rock up any time that day, input their unique order code and the KFC kitchen will make their order fresh. Two of the lanes are still dedicated to traditional drive-thru – so if you want to order with a real human, the option still remains. It’s just less of a priority.

“One of the things that really came out of the consumer research was this anxiety that customers get when they go to a drive-thru menu board and they feel this intense need to just order really quickly and move on because they don't want to hold up the person behind,” Gravitis said.

“Now apps are so widespread and people are so used to smartphones, this part of our business will only grow. And it's great because it gives people the time to put an order in and customise it as they want to.”

Some of the perks of delivery, with a brick-and-mortar experience

That opportunity to think and customise no doubt plays a part in the rise of the delivery app in recent years. The usual suspects like Uber Eats and Menulog have enabled us to eat take out without ever leaving the house. KFC doesn't want to go that far – but while it’s removing some of the face-to-face aspect, it’s still very much about maintaining some sort of physical store presence.

“Delivery is growing but it will never beat over the bricks and mortar stores for us,” Gravitis said.

“We thought this is a great opportunity to try and really encourage customers to order it from their home, order it from their office, whenever it suits them, and they can take as long as they like. And then once they're ready, they can come down and pick it up and we'll make it fresh for them.”

As is expected with the opening of a new concept store, the next few weeks will likely present issues to be ironed out as the smaller site deals with fluctuating customer loads and the general logistics of a five-lane drive-through. Right now, the store is expecting systematic queues as customers wait behind boom gates for their orders to be freshly cooked in the kitchen. Fitted with a single payment window and a lone collection window, only time will tell whether the reality matches the aspirations.

But if those problems arise and are eventually resolved, they’ll likely help get Australia’s second drive-thru only store hit the ground running.

It’s expected to open in January 2020 in South Australia’s Mount Gambier, close to the Victorian border; another location in regional Australia. The project is being driven by a franchisee, instead of the company-owned Broadmeadow store, and will have four drive-thru lanes with one being a traditional option.

It seems like KFC is expecting its Broadmeadow experiment to be a hit.