Special Report | October 2016 | By Sam Oches

Inside Starbucks’ Drive-Thru Strategy

The coffee giant has room to grow when it concerns this aspect of its business.

The king of the coffee industry and the No. 2 quick-service company by U.S. system-wide sales, Starbucks would seem to have all of its ducks in a row when it comes to the back of the house. But the Seattle company apparently has at least one Achilles heel: the drive thru.

Read How Starbucks Reinvented the Customer Experience in the Drive Thru

According to this year’s data, Starbucks ranked last in drive-thru speed of service and in the bottom half with order accuracy. Further, the company’s customer service scores were average at best—not quite the high-quality hospitality the company touts of its team members.

Things could be on the mend, however. Recently, operations consultant King-Casey worked with Starbucks to improve its drive-thru systems, which included enhancements to its signage, messaging, and wayfinding; mobile-ordering capabilities; and even a digital menuboard that projected the face of the barista to make the experience more personable.

“Our scope of work focused on helping them assess their current drive thrus and identifying opportunities to improve sales and their customer experience,” says Tom Cook, partner at King-Casey. “The biggest ‘aha’ moment came when we recommended they ‘bring the inside customer experience outside’ to the drive thru.”


I don't need to see the person's face who is talking to me in the drive thru and when I've gone to Starbucks which is a lot it's used about 10% of the time. One way to improve the drive thru would be to better design how customers can get in and out of one quickly. Usually you have to pull into a strip mall then hunt down the drive thru and navigate around customers of other businesses, etc. The solution seems more simple to me than enhancing the menu board and adding a camera for the drive thru operator. Also, the mobile app is great but if I order a coffee through the app then it should be ready pretty quickly when it's just a matter of pouring it and placing it on the counter. I'm typically waiting because other order a drink that cost $12 and takes 20 minutes to make.

I agree with the person above. I would prefer seeing a digital of my order in case they got it wrong. This way it could be corrected prior to my paying. The staff is always nice the drive thru is just slow. I find going in is quicker.

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