But is sacrificing the dining room really a wise tradeoff? Since an estimated 60-70 percent of all quick-service restaurant business comes through the drive thru, it may not be as big of a risk as some might think.
One reason is that though consumers of any generation appreciate convenience, younger generations take this more seriously amid the rise of more mobile and delivery options. As millennial and Gen-Z consumers become an increasingly large part of the U.S. economy, their preference for the convenience of drive thru and off-premises dining is likely to make these outdoor sales even more lucrative and offset losses from a dining room.
Restaurants can also save money by operating on a smaller floor plan in more ways than just real estate costs. Smaller floor plans also mean lower utility costs, too. Additionally, they don’t have to spend as much money on interior décor and front-of-house furniture. Staff can also be used more efficiently, since they don’t have to clean the dining room, messy front-of-house soda fountains, garbage cans, or guest restrooms. This means staff’s talents can be better used where they are most needed, and this can further reduce labor expenses.
Due to these benefits and growing consumer need for more convenient quick-service options, large national chains are building new concepts based solely on the drive-thru or walk-up window, too. Brands such as McDonald’s, Checkers, Starbucks, Andy’s Frozen Custard, Biggby Coffee, and Dutch Brothers Coffee have designs like these.
However, while eliminating these additional touchpoints adds efficiency benefits, it also means that a brand has fewer opportunities to make a good impression, so the drive-thru experience has to be spot-on. Allen says this places greater importance on the quality of the equipment and service at the drive thru, especially at the window. For this reason, Allen recently remodeled his drive-thru-only location to add more space at the window.
“We added 44 square feet to expand our pickup area, and it’s been leaps and bounds more beneficial,” he says. “The window space is now larger, and we have two Ready Access windows that make it so that we can see the customers better and make eye contact and converse more easily. The customers can also see into the space from the order point so they don’t feel so remote.”
Anna Ellis, sales and marketing manager at Ready Access recommends adding a transoms and sidelights to drive-thru windows to provide more light for customers and employees, as well as a friendlier feeling.
As more brands realize the benefits of the drive-thru-only layout, Allen says he expects to see more restaurants that operate on this kind of floor plan, and he plans to open more himself. “We’re looking at more opportunities for further expansion, and though we aren’t quite there yet, this drive-thru-only concept is the only way I would do it,” he says. “This is a model we’ve honed for 35 years, and I am completely committed to it.”
By Peggy Carouthers