Whether thinking of renovating an existing building or moving into a new one, the topic of drive thrus often come up with restaurant owners looking for ways to change up their business. For restaurants that can make it work, drive thrus can bring in big profit, especially in communities that rely on driving for their primary form of transportation.
However, don’t assume that a drive thru will automatically make you more money in the long run or necessarily drive more customers to your business. Yes, it gives busy customers more incentive to choose you, but if they weren’t going to eat at your restaurant, a drive thru alone won’t sway them.
In order to ensure your drive thru is a smart investment instead of a nightmare, research diligently, plan the installation accordingly, make sure you’re up to code, and carefully train your employees.
Weigh your options
Remember that not all restaurant concepts work with a drive thru. Drive thru customers expect even faster transactions than sit down customers. If you can’t provide that, the customer won’t want to come back. Some kinds of foods just aren’t a good fit for drive thrus.
For instance, if you’re a crepe shop — a restaurant whose main menu items take time and precision to make — putting in a drive thru and expecting orders to go smoothly is a big mistake. On top of that, how many people are going to want to either eat a crepe in the car (or bring it home and run the risk of it getting cold) compared to just coming into your shop?
Is your volume itself conducive to a drive thru? While a drive thru can help your efficiency — and bring more profit per shift — a poorly run drive thru full of food that doesn’t work for that system can actually bring you a reputation for slow service.
A good way to get a sense of whether it works for you is to look at really successful chain restaurants that are close to your brand and customer base. Do they have a drive thru window? If similar restaurants consistently don’t have one, it could be a sign that you shouldn’t try it. If you decide not to, there are other possibilities, including a standard order pick-up system as an alternative to choosing delivery.
Equipment and planning
Once you’ve decided to install or implement a drive thru window, make sure you have all the equipment needed, including the window itself (whether you go for two windows or one), the menu display, the squawk box, and security cameras.
With the advanced technology on the market, you have a lot of options, including touchscreen technology. This could be a help or a hindrance, especially if your main customer base isn’t very tech savvy — or simply can’t reach it while in their car. If the touchscreen interface is buggy or it’s hard for the regular person to navigate through, you’re going to majorly slow down your drive thru line.
Generally, a digital display is going to be most practical, however. When items change, the display should be much easier to update, and you don’t have to worry about your panels getting faded from prolonged exposure to direct sun.
Also think about the menu itself. If you have a huge menu with dozens of items, are you going to include every single item on the display? That could end up giving your customers too many choices and slow down the line.
Is there any way you can consolidate the menu to feature the main items? What’s the best way to organize the items so it’s easy for a drive thru customer to parse information quickly?
You also want to plan out the queue configuration. Have you given cars enough space to make turns, leave the queue if needed and exit the parking lot safely? If you have two squawk boxes but one drive thru window, have you properly marked the lanes so that the area where they merge goes smoothly? These are the things you should be thinking about while drawing up your plans.
For the window, make sure you install it in a spot that avoids sun glare during the day (or put up an awning to create shade). Getting rid of glare helps your employee provide better customer service at the window and proper visibility keeps them safe.
Just putting in the equipment isn’t enough to get to your drive thru up and running. Permitting is a huge part of the process. Many cities require fire department approval for drive thrus thanks to the extra windows (more ways for air to get in during a fire) and having cars idling so close to the buildings. There are even some areas with laws requiring specific signage and certain paint colors for curbs.
This is all to make sure the cars can easily move in and out of your parking lot, which in the long run is a benefit to you. After all, you want to help your customers have a good experience with you, and that includes driving onto and leaving your property.
Just remember that if you take short cuts and don’t comply with your local laws, there could be serious financial and legal consequences. Even if you’re moving into a new location with a drive thru window already installed, double check that the window and drive thru lane are up to code. Better to fix the mistakes of the previous business than get fined later and still have to correct the issues.
Training and scheduling
Do not forget about training your staff on how to operate and work with coworkers operating the drive thru window. Even the most experienced staff member could feel lost if a drive thru is added. Everything from working with the equipment to cash handling to how to deal with belligerent customers from the window should be covered.
Be patient with your employees and make sure the new steps in your shift are clear and understandable. Don’t be afraid to hold refresher training sessions weeks down the line to ensure your staff feels confident with this new area of the restaurant.
Scheduling will be another big issue when it comes to your drive thru. Making sure you have enough people in every shift so you don’t have to spread the rest of your stations thin in order to keep someone at the window.
Some more options
If you don’t want to jump into the responsibility of a drive thru, why not start by implementing a pick up program instead? This gives your customers more options besides sit down meals or delivery, plus tests the waters for more elaborate set ups like the drive thru.
If you do think the drive thru will work for you but are still concerned about how to get it running smoothly, consider hiring a restaurant consultant who specializes in drive thru adaptation. After all, things can get confusing with so many regulations and new elements to put into place. Bringing someone in who has experience in this area could be well worth the extra cost.
Want some insight on how to start a renovation project like this? Download our free eBook: The Secret to Remodeling Your Restaurant.