Executive Insights | October 2010 | By Blair Chancey

How to Upsell Drinks in the Drive Thru

Coke’s senior marketing manager, James Latimore, shares secrets for capturing the 13 billion servings you’re missing each year in off-premise beverage sales.

Coke's senior marketing manager James LattimoreMore than one-third of restaurant off-premise customers leave without purchasing a beverage. Why? That number quite frankly is somewhere around 13 billion servings a year, just to give you some dimension for how big it really is. So we think that’s a huge, huge opportunity from a quick-service standpoint. It’s somewhere around 30 million opportunities a day for quick-serve outlets to get a sale and generate profit. One of the reasons that doesn’t happen is because consumers are concerned that the beverage is going to spill before they get it to the car or while in the car on the way to the destination where they’re going to consume the food.

Secondly, they’re concerned about the quality of the beverage when they get it to the place that they’re going. Depending on how long you’ve got to drive you’re going to get some ice melt, and it might not be the beverage that you wanted to have if you were consuming onsite.

Thirdly, consumers want to have the exact same dining experience away from the outlet that they would have in the outlet as it relates to the quality of their meal. So those are really three top-of-the-line issues that consumers have.

Did the bad economy force consumers to cut back beverage spending at all? No, we didn’t see a significant change in the no-beverage servings as a result of the economy. What that tells us is that there is a desire on the consumer’s part to have a complete meal experience, and if there is value in that meal experience, they’re OK paying to have a beverage as a part of the experience. 

A package deal basically? Basically, the food, the side, and the beverage all in one. But we’ve also been told that consumers really don’t want to think about the beverage part of the food order. So if we can make it easy for them, the incidents of beverages with off-premise orders will actually go up.

Why don’t consumers want to think about beverages in the drive thru? It’s not something that they would proactively think about putting into the order. They’re OK if it’s a part of their order and they don’t have to think about it when it relates to off-premise.

Let me give you an example. We asked consumers specifically what their behaviors were when they ordered their food for off-premise consumption. All of those things from your earlier question came up, but none of them were roadblocks to the consumers wanting a beverage with their meal when they purchased. Think about it: It’s convenience for them. That’s the driver for the off-premise food-consumption occasion … convenience.

If we don’t provide them with everything that they need or want, then we have just minimized their convenience.

How can operators influence more beverage sales to occur? We talked about one a little bit earlier and that’s specifically bundling food and beverage orders.

Another way is to ensure that consumers don’t do a lot of thinking. In other words, thinking gets in the way of their convenience model. If there’s a beverage already associated with your favorite meal, you know you don’t have to think about the beverage component of it. The way that we have to make consumers aware of this convenience is to tell them. So we need to have avenues like menuboards, counter cards, drive-thru placards, any way that we can communicate to them their beverage is here, it’s available to entice, enhance, make your food purchase better, that works. 

Where is the best spot for the beverage in a menuboard photo? That information is proprietary, but just getting the beverage in an image with food is a good first step. And it goes beyond that, even having beverages and food pairings listed at the fountain works. Is there a message that talks about the beverage along with the food? Or if you’re going to a drive thru, is there a message somewhere that talks about the beverage with the food even if you don’t have a beverage and food picture?

Does packaging play a role in the decision to buy a beverage at all? I’m going to give you a little insight that we picked up that tells us that consumers also want to be able to have their food and beverage handling from point of purchase to point of consumption significantly easier.

If you think this through, they place the order in the drive thru, then get out of the car with a bag of food and beverages somehow. You still have your keys or your cell phone or your purse or your briefcase or your gym bag or your two-year-old, but you only have two hands. One of the things that we know consumers have a desire for going forward is even more ease of handling from point of purchase to point of consumption. 

Do you have any closing thoughts to share? I want to reiterate the vastness of the opportunity for off-premise beverage consumption. It is really one of the pieces of low-hanging fruit for operators to increase their sales and profit.