When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it sparked a major change in the restaurant industry: an increased focus on takeout options. Even as the world enters the recovery phase of the pandemic, several experts agree that this sudden shift to the emerging on-the-go lifestyle isn’t going anywhere. Ahead of National Drive-Thru Day on July 24, we’re taking a closer look at the positive impact drive-thrus can have for quick-service restaurant concepts.

PJ’s Coffee, the New Orleans-based, direct trade coffee roaster, experienced firsthand how having a drive-thru at their locations impacted sales. Last year, their drive-thru locations averaged 53.4 percent more revenue than locations without a drive-thru. Furthermore, drive-thru purchases make up 65 percent of their total sales overall at drive-thru enabled locations.

They embraced this increase in drive-thru traffic by launching innovative concepts, such as drive-thru only locations. So what does this mean for quick-service restaurant brands as a whole, and what can they do to make the most of this ongoing trend?

To-go is for good. With options like in-store pickup, curbside pickup, delivery and- of course- drive thrus, there are endless possibilities when it comes to targeting “on-the-go” customers. Drive-thrus, in particular, are an excellent way to address this increased demand.

Unlike other to-go options, drive-thrus do not charge customers an additional service fee to use. They are also the perfect pit stop for drivers on the way to work, school, the gym, or wherever their destination may be. For years, it has been apparent that one of the factors that customers value the most is convenience. Drive-thrus allow quick-service restaurant concepts to fulfill this need and maintain a competitive edge.

It’s time to get creative. Just as PJ’s Coffee did, getting creative with how your locations are set up is just one way to maximize your profits. This can best be demonstrated by the PJ’s Coffee drive-thru only model, which is beneficial to the brand as a whole and to their individual franchisees. Given the smaller space, this model requires less investment to open, but can be just as busy- if not busier- than traditional locations. At PJ’s, it can save franchisees as much as $100,000 on their investment.

This unique model also offers franchisees the benefit of simple operations. The smaller space means they will have more awareness of everything that is going on at a given time and it allows them to manage their location more efficiently versus having to pace back and forth between the dining area and drive-thru.

The rollout of this model was accelerated by the pandemic, which forced quick-service restaurant establishments to close their dining rooms. PJ’s was quick to notice that some of their stores were doing just as well having only their drive-thrus up and running, and they adapted accordingly. Many of these drive-thru locations are in high-traffic areas, such as right off a freeway or in the midst of a busy intersection.

Signage works wonders. For traditional establishments, drive-thrus themselves serve as an additional revenue stream. What if there was a way to enhance this revenue stream even further? One way to reap the benefits of a strong drive-thru model is by increasing signage. Whether it be signs letting customers know that your drive-thru is nearby or exterior signage at your location promoting LTOs or other promotions, generating awareness is a great place to start when it comes to driving traffic and sales.

Integration is key. Of course, with the abundance of to-go options, it’s important to be able to manage your takeout platform effectively. The PJ’s Coffee mobile app offers a convenient way for customers to order and pay ahead of time, as well as a quick way for them to find a PJ’s to make a pit stop at when they’re out and about. In terms of the drive-thru, this also means making sure everything is set up efficiently on the back end. Ensuring your processes are running smoothly will set you up for success and allow you to take advantage of all the perks that drive-thrus allow their operators.

Overall, drive-thrus are an excellent way to fulfill the needs of busy customers and offer a lower investment option to franchisees, all while increasing your revenue. PJ’s Coffee is even celebrating the success they have seen with drive-thrus with their “Drive-Thru SurPRIZE” contest on National Drive-Thru Day, where select locations will be offering an array of prizes and PJ’s swag to customers who steer their way into the drive-thru lane.

Keeping up with the trends is one way to manifest success, but staying ahead of them with innovative thinking is a way to ensure it- just take it from PJ’s Coffee.

Since 2010, Ryan Stansbury has served as the Vice President of Franchise Development for Ballard Brands. With over 20 years of franchise development experience, Mr. Stansbury’s primary responsibility is to facilitate domestic and international growth of a portfolio of retail brands. Mr. Stansbury is also a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE), a designation issued by the International Franchising Association in February of 2007 for his work and study in the franchise. 

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