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Quick-service restaurant to drop the dining room in some locations

Ross Norton //March 31, 2023//

Quick-service restaurant to drop the dining room in some locations

Ross Norton //March 31, 2023//

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Zaxby's in Clemson became the third restaurant on three successive lots to tear down and rebuild with greater emphasis on to-go service. (Photo/Ross Norton)Zaxby’s chose Clemson to test its next step forward with an idea from the past.

Much of the paint on Tiger Boulevard in Clemson seems barely dry. Only one of the quick-service restaurants up and down the college town thoroughfare is showing signs of significant age. The rest, from Wendy’s to Pizza Hut, have been updated and modernized, from a dining room fireplace at one to the delightful absence of a ball pit at another.

It’s more than a fresh layer of paint, though, as most were razed and rebuilt from the ground up with a new design.

Several of the most recent scrape-and-rebuild projects put a new emphasis on drive-thru service since to-go demand peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic and has demonstrated a continued momentum since. The rebuilt McDonald’s and Chic-fil-A came with more elaborate and efficient drive-thru lanes. The latest to rebuild, Zaxby’s, is banking exclusively on to-go.

The restaurant has no dining room at all but opted, instead, on drive-thru and walk-up window service. The only thing accessible to the public under its roof are restrooms and a bank of cubbies for food delivery services such as Uber Eats and Door Dash.

Mike Mettler, chief development officer at Zaxby's Franchising LLC, said all of the company’s new or rebuilt restaurants will not be to-go only, but the tight space at the Clemson site — the restaurant shares a driveway with Chick-fil-A next door — made it an ideal location to test the new concept.

“Zaxby's is evaluating on a case-by-case basis which model fits best for each individual market where it opens new locations, or where it has scrape-and-rebuilds, such as this one in Clemson,” he said in an email. “For the Clemson location specifically, we chose a to-go only building because we were constrained on the size of the existing lot. This was the perfect opportunity for us to launch this new building type.”

In addition to addressing space constraints, the modular design makes for speedy construction time, which diminishes a halt in revenue interruption for rebuild projects and hastens revenue for new properties.

“This restaurant is Zaxby’s first modular building opening in the system,” Mettler said. “The combination of a modular building and a smaller size allows Zaxby's to accelerate new store openings across the country. In addition, it provides a building format which can reduce the time that stores are closed during a scrape and rebuild of an existing location.”

The next scheduled location to open as a to-go only restaurant for Zaxby’s will be in Murrells Inlet, expected to start serving chicken tenders in April at 11872 Highway 707.

The Clemson location is open already at 11059 Tiger Blvd., known on highway maps at U.S. Highway 123.

“We’re excited to bring this new Zaxby’s experience to Clemson,” Douglas Fleming, regional director of operations, said in a news release. “We look forward to continuing to serve the community our delicious chicken fingers, wings and salads — with even more speed and convenience.”

The 2,084 square-foot restaurant is roughly two-thirds the size of a traditional Zaxby’s location. Customers can park and walk up to a window or use a new, covered double drive-thru layout.

The company cited a Wall Street Journal article that said heightened consumer demand for food to go is expected to last well beyond the pandemic. Customers are also more often taking advantage of ordering ahead online or through the Zaxby’s app, and the rebuilt location has special parking for those customers.

The new restaurant is providing up to 40 new employment opportunities in Clemson, the company said in the news release.

Zaxby’s started in the late 1980s as a single restaurant serving wings in Statesboro, Ga. The company now is headquartered in Athens, Ga., and has 900 locations in 17 states.