restaurant drive thru

More Fast-Casual Restaurants are Migrating to the Drive Thru

With 60 to 70 percent of all quick-service business occurring at the drive-thru window, it is no wonder more restaurants are working to add it to their concept, or expanding the number of windows to serve more customers.  

Although fast-casual restaurants were slow to adopt the drive-thru window due to its association with fast food, the profits are too hard to ignore. When Panera Bread opened its drive thrus, the brand reported sales increase of 25 to 30 percent. With this kind of success, other fast casuals are following suit, even in concepts that traditionally don’t have drive thru windows. In fact, Gary Stibel, founder of New England Consulting Group told QSR that the move of fast casual toward the drive thru was a top trend of 2017.

Fast-casual chain Urban Bricks Pizza drive thru

Fast-casual chain Urban Bricks Pizza has seen a 30 percent sales increase with the addition of drive thrus at several locations.

Other fast casual brands are migrating to the drive thru, even at the expense of moving to locations more suitable for drive thrus as consumers continue patronizing brands that offer them the comfort and simplicity of sitting in their own cars.

“We see a huge surge in ‘relocations,’ meaning inline stores moving to endcaps or outbuildings,” says Anna Ellis, sales and marketing manager for Ready-Access. “Restaurants love adding this ‘convenience advantage’ for their customers. This applies to quick-serve restaurants, fast-casual concepts, and even full-serve restaurants with order ahead pick up. Simply put, adding comfort and convenience adds customers.”

Others still are reinventing their concepts to make the drive thru fit. Take Urban Bricks Pizza Company, for example, a San Antonio-based fast-casual pizza chain that makes pizza, made to order in an open-kitchen concept that allows customers to see the process. One may think this concept would not lend itself to drive thru, but when CEO and Founder Sammy Aldeeb saw that his wife was taking their children to competing restaurants because they had drive thrus, he knew it was time to consider changing the concept.

 “I was looking at our credit card statement and asking, ‘Why are you going down the street to a competitive restaurant and not take the kids to Urban Bricks? I know the kids love our pizza,’” Aldeeb says. “And she says, ‘Sammy, I’m not going anywhere out with your monkeys unless they have a drive thru,’ and that got my gears going. We have this awesome pizza that cooks within two minutes, so why can’t I go ahead and do a drive thru in a fresh-to order, build-your-own pizza concept?”

Adapting a fast-casual concept to the drive thru is a challenge when what often sets the brand apart is the commitment to freshness customers can see in open floor plans. To solve this problem, Urban Bricks installed a large window on the side of the building so that even from the drive thru, customers can watch Urban Bricks pizzas being made fresh from prep to the ovens in only five minutes.

And the concept has worked with consumers. “The drive thru is a huge sales drive,” Aldeeb says. “It has increased our sales about 30 percent.”

As brands consider installing more drive thru windows to speed service while others consider adding drive thrus, the logistics are important.

“It is well-worth taking a look at your window as this may be the only way customers experience your brand,” Ellis says. “It should be clean and working in peak performance to maximize the number of sales, customer perception of quality, and your staff’s productivity and comfort.”

By Peggy Carouthers

QSR Magazine