How to Build an Enduring Drive-Thru Experience

    The president of Scooter’s Coffee on what customers are looking for in their daily pick me up.

    Scooter’s Coffee drive-thru window.
    Scooter’s Coffee
    People have always been drawn to fast and convenient service.

    There may be a drive-thru option on every corner these days, but the ideal qualities are often lacking. Most people seeking coffee, or a quick breakfast may have less than 10 minutes to fuel up before heading to work or another time-sensitive destination. If you can quickly give the customer what they want, you build trust and loyalty.

    Speed of service starts with proper training. Training should help make employees’ lives easier while focusing on speed and efficiency. Proper training ensures that workers can anticipate and avoid roadblocks, pivot when necessary, and keep things flowing. Beyond that, technological advances (such as preview menu boards) and testing different lane options can help ensure a positive business flow.

    What makes for a great drive-thru experience? We’ve learned over time that a few attributes really stand out to drive-thru consumers: speed, taste, friendliness, and accuracy. Speed is the most important, because without it, the other qualities won’t matter. Friendliness and taste are what people generally expect, but accuracy is essential. Some business models allow for seemingly unlimited customization possibilities, but that slows the flow and makes it difficult for baristas to replicate and get it right every single time. While there is always room for accommodation, a disciplined menu actually leads to better order accuracy and higher customer satisfaction.

    People have always been drawn to fast and convenient service. Many quick-service locations reported that even before the pandemic, their drive-thrus were receiving 65 percent or more of the traffic of their split-option businesses. The past few years have only demonstrated the resilience and necessity of this business format. Largely, the drive-thru is even relevant because people have gotten used to the option and prefer it for its ease and convenience.

    Drive-thru timers give us an indication of how long the customer is in the lane, how long they spend at the menu board, and how long they’re at the window. Understanding those times by store, by time of day, helps us problem-solve at a store level. On a macro level, these tools help us learn how to be better prepared with everything from creating an easy-to-navigate menu to making drinks, to interacting with customers. The preview board gives customers an idea of what to expect on the menu, especially in newer markets where people may be less familiar with your brand. This helps speed up their experience once it comes time to place their orders.

    In some stores, we’re also testing line busting, which involves a barista going outside and taking orders directly from drivers in line. It helps speed up preparation inside the building and also adds a personal touch. We’re also looking into camera technology to see if and when people are getting out of line so we can solve for any problems that prevent people from having the best experience.

    When you’re growing at a fast speed, roles evolve, technology changes, and you have to be in perpetual motion around the organizational structure. Thinking about now while also looking to the future and how you can keep evolving is essential to growing your business. Employing experts who are leaders in their category, be it brewed coffee or drive-thru technology, is essential to growing the business and staying ahead of the curve. There’s a lot of value in pulling in singularly focused individuals who can help grow your brand.

     At Scooter’s Coffee, we remain confident in our business model because drive-thru continues to be a mainstay for consumers. Alongside operational training, we are constantly looking at ways to speed up our drive-thrus, whether it’s with the help of technology or testing different lane options. We’re always looking at optimizing the experience and the core of that helping our franchisees and their baristas to be as effective and successful as possible.

    Joe Thornton was named the Scooter’s Coffee president in June to help drive growth, brand excellence, and exceptional franchise support. With more than 38 years of experience in operations, new store expansion, marketing/branding, employee development, franchising, and store optimization, Thornton has led some of the fastest growth companies over the years, including Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Blockbuster and, most recently, HMSHost.