Drive-Thrus Were Built for Pandemics

COVID-19 is an opportunity for retailers, restaurants and other businesses to co-opt the drive-thru.

December 04, 2020

NEW YORK—For most restaurants and many retailers, the pandemic has been business-crushing. But for those who either already had or who added a drive-thru option, including c-stores, business is booming, Bisnow reports. From haunted houses on Halloween to coronavirus labs to the Salvation Army, companies have turned to drive-thrus to meet customer needs.

Before the pandemic, drive-thrus accounted for about 70% of QSR sales, according to QSR magazine. For example, Restaurant Brands International, owner of Burger King, said drive-thru sales grabbed two-thirds of its overall sales in 2019, but that percentage jumped to more than 85% post-pandemic. Burger King’s newest concept has more drive-thru capacity as a result.

Other fast-food restaurants have also experimented with space and drive-thrus. Taco Bell will debut its Taco Bell Go Mobile concept next year with more emphasis on people ordering via its app. Joseph Bona, founder of Bona Design Lab, discussed some of these ideas during a Spotlight Session at the NACS Crack the Code Experience.

In Bisnow, Bona said of drive-thrus’ popularity, “What’s old is new again,” pointing to banks, pharmacies and Swiss Farms’ and Farm Stores’ old drive-thru only models. For example, Wawa is experimenting with a drive-thru only location.

Bona posited that companies that reduce the need for people to come inside stores to eat or browse will be able to reduce real estate costs by building smaller stores with lower operational costs. Drive-thru can be one way to continue serving customers, as long as the retailer can do so quickly.

Recently, drive-thru demand has increased the average wait time by 30 seconds at QSRs, partly because of food preparation and partly because of larger menus, Bona said. To reduce that wait time, retailers could use digital menu boards that highlight breakfast foods in the mornings and lunch foods around midday.

Read more about c-store drive-thru opportunities in “Pass Through” in the October issue of NACS Magazine.