Drive-Thrus Are Having a Moment

From Sweetgreen to Wawa, everyone’s getting in on the drive-up ordering action.

December 18, 2020

WESTAMPTON, N.J.—Wawa’s first store with a drive-thru window opens today in Westampton, N.J., the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reports. The store also has three parking slots reserved for curbside pickup. The move comes as more QSRs and other retailers have redesigned or added drive-thrus. According to The NPD Group, restaurant drive-thru orders accelerated 24% in October.

Wawa has said it’s been piloting drive-thru and similar services “in response to COVID-19 and as a way to provide new ways to access Wawa. … We are hoping to learn from the layout, workflow and traffic flow at this location, as we continue to explore alternatives for longer term application to our stores post-COVID-19,” said Terri Micklin, who leads the chain’s construction.

Meanwhile, the trend continues with other QSRs in different formats. As part of its push into suburbia, the salad chain Sweetgreen will open its first store with a drive-thru lane and parking lot ordering, CNBC reports. Sweetgreen’s announcement comes after Burger King and Chipotle Mexican Grill revealed their own drive-thru changes.

The Sweetgreen drive-thru will be located in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and is slated to open next winter. Customers will be able to order ahead and pick up at the drive-thru with the chain’s mobile app.

“A lot of our customers already have this behavior of using the Sweetgreen app to order ahead and come in ahead to pick it up,” said Chief Concept Officer Nic Jammet.

The new Sweetgreen location will also allow ordering from vehicles at dedicated parking spots similar to Sonic Drive-In. Sweetgreen is calling the new concept a “drive-in” restaurant.

“Definitely during COVID, our work on this accelerated, and we said, ‘Now’s our time,’” Jammet said. “Our customers’ behavior is shifting even more rapidly ... and as we move into more of these suburban areas and opening in new cities and new neighborhoods, it just seemed like something we should really focus on finally.”

Find out how retailers are wrestling with curbside pickup and drive-thrus in “Reimaging Retail with Drive-Thrus,” based on the NACS Crack the Code Experience spotlight session “Ideas From Around the World.”