Wawa Embraces the Drive-Thru

The retailer is building a drive-thru/curbside-only c-store, and even Shake Shack is eyeing the concept.

August 03, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Wawa last week officially announced its first-ever drive-thru and curbside-pickup-only c-store in the U.S. The Pennsylvania-based convenience retailer is building the new fresh-food-focused concept in the Philadelphia suburbs and plans to open the 1,850-square-foot store by the end of the year.

“Wawa continues to test new store concepts with this latest drive-thru format, providing an opportunity for our customers to still experience and enjoy their favorite Wawa products while remaining inside their vehicle,” said Terri Micklin, director of construction, Wawa. “It is critical to provide new ways to access Wawa, increase convenience and provide new options for service.”

Micklin said Wawa is “hoping to learn from the layout, workflow and traffic flow” at the Falls Township, Pennsylvania, store “as we continue to explore alternatives for longer term application to our stores post-COVID-19.”

As NACS Daily reported last month, Wawa also is building a c-store in Burlington County, New Jersey, that will feature a drive-thru window. Separately, Wawa confirmed last week that it will start offering the Sizzli Breakfast Sandwich with Beyond Meat’s Beyond Breakfast Sausage in its c-stores nationwide on August 10.

Coconut Grove, Florida-based Farm Stores and Delaware County, Pennsylvania-based Swiss Farms Drive-Thru Market already operate drive-thru convenience stores in Wawa’s backyard. Farm Stores has more than 60 stores in Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania and is expanding to Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Swiss Farms operates 11 drive-thru c-stores in Pennsylvania.

Drive-thru windows are a fixture of many quick-serve restaurants, and they are getting a renewed look as the coronavirus pandemic shows no signs of dissipating. In addition, these chains aren’t eager to reopen their dining rooms after closing them because of how much they are saving in labor and cleaning costs, Andrew Charles, an analyst with Cowen Inc., told the Wall Street Journal.

Shake Shack last week unveiled a plan to launch a new drive-thru service in 2021 in the U.S. after piloting curbside pickup in 10 locations this spring in response to the initial COVID-19 outbreak. At least eight existing locations are targeted for a new “Shack Track” experience, which will include enhanced digital ordering and food pickup via a drive-up or walk-up window, curbside service or in-store pickup shelves, the company said.

Dunkin’ Brands CEO Dave Hoffmann said the chain leaned into curbside pickup and drive-thru service to respond to customers’ safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, CNBC reports. “We think there are two major forces we are going to be operating against: health and safety… and access to the brand,” Hoffmann told CNBC last week. “Making quick decisions based on the best information you have in hand is what our team has really learned during the crisis.” Dunkin’ may close as many as 800 of its underperforming stores, including 450 stores in Speedway gas stations.

Meanwhile, Restaurant Brands International Inc., which owns Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, “doubled down” on its digital and delivery services. COVID-19 “acted as an accelerator for some of the trends that we already identified in our strategy,” said Matthew Dunnigan, chief financial officer of RBI. The company added more drive-thru, delivery and curbside pickup to its restaurants, with close to 10,000 locations now with delivery in Canada and the United States, compared with only hundreds at the start of 2018.

Church’s Chicken had been focusing on drive-thrus pre-pandemic. “We have been working on this for years, and it paid off. It really benefited our business,” said CFO Louis “Dusty” Profumo. Church’s has seen a 15% to 20% bump in drive-thru sales since March, with drive-thru orders now grabbing nearly all of Church’s sales. The chain is also adding new payment and delivery systems.

In July, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it would open more stores with drive-thru lanes for digital orders. More than 60% of new buildings would have such lanes, which would only be for online order pickups. And Starbucks plans to open 40 to 50 pickup-only stores by June 2021 and will focus on drive-thru stores in the suburbs, moving away from its shopping mall locations.

Read more about what c-stores are doing to innovate with drive-thru and curbside pickup in “Last-Mile Demands” in the August issue of NACS Magazine.

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