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The Critical Drive-Thru

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When we opened our local Coffee Shop, there was a lot I did not know. I did not know…

  • How much capital would be required in the early days to keep the business running
  • How difficult it would be to educate the public about who we are
  • That I would need to gain a firm grasp of free and inexpensive marketing very, very quickly
  • That we would struggle to perform the number of transactions I had been so sure of
  • How much labor would impact (really negate) profitability
  • How much food and supplies would cost
  • How difficult cash flow would be in the beginning
  • and on and on and on…

Those are all topics I will write about later, but I want to write about something I knew, long before we opened. Some Local Coffee Shop owners will disagree with what I am about to say, but I was 100% committed to these two requirements.

I knew we had to have a drive-thru, and I knew we had to be fast.

When you are on your way to work, at rush hour, you can be assured of one thing. You are almost always in a hurry. I know for me, no matter how early I attempt to leave, something will happen that I did not anticipate. Most of the time, I end up leaving on time, or a little late.

If you want to stop for a latte or a delicious cup of drip specialty coffee on your way to work, all of the above means that wherever you decide to patronize, if they want to keep you coming back, had better have a drive-thru for convenience, and it had better be fast. I am going to forego the potentially lengthy discussion about balancing speed with quality and connection here, and get to the point of this post…

What I Knew to be True

Before opening our shop, I came from a work environment in which we not only had a drive-thru, but it accounted for well over half of our daily sales. Our drive-thru was critically important to everyone on the team. Everyone knew and understood what I just stated – that the drive-thru accounted for well over half of our business.

Naturally, being the super-intelligent, super-savvy businessman that I am (I can hear you laughing), I made the critical decision that we needed must have a drive-thru at Sourdough Cuppa Joe.

Of course, location and type of traffic play into this decision. Our shop is located on a four-lane major artery through our area of town. We see traffic counts over 30,000 vehicles daily pass by our shop. Thankfully, some of those cars turn into our parking lot! If a shop is in a location which largely receives foot traffic instead of vehicle traffic, obviously a drive-thru does not make sense – see super-intelligent comments above.

Great specialty coffee beverages, available through a fast, friendly, personal, convenient drive-thru experience was my vision, and I was committed to making sure that happened. I cannot even begin to estimate how many locations I looked into and declined to pursue further when I discovered that a drive-thru was not going to be possible at that location. When we found our location, I knew it was the right fit largely because the bones of the drive-thru were already in place.

For our first seven months, we did not have a full drive-thru system. We had our one window, which we used for our order point and delivery point. When we were really busy, we would pull a car forward and bring their order outside when it was complete in order to be able to take and fulfill the next order in line. This “worked” in the beginning, but it did not allow us to capitalize on the magic of what makes drive-thrus beneficial to the customer and the establishment.

The Magic of the Drive-Thru

A basic drive-thru consists of an order point and a payment/delivery point. Variations of these include multiple order points achieved through either multiple speaker box menus (normally multi-lane drive-thrus) or actual team members taking orders on tablets and storing them in the order queue, separate payment and delivery points aimed at speeding up the line, and even separate condiment stands aimed at eliminating the speed bottleneck at the payment/delivery point.

Basically, you need to be able to receive an order and store it in your order queue. The order can then be prepared and assembled during the time it takes to deliver previous orders placed ahead of the order just received.

All of this means that, in a perfect world, when you arrive at the food delivery point (the window) your items are ready and, after payment, you are given your items and you are on your way.

I had seen this work seamlessly, beautifully, magically in my past experience, and I knew we needed this tool in our toolbox at Sourdough Cuppa Joe.

Seven months after we opened, we made the leap and purchased the needed equipment for a drive-thru system. I called an old friend of mine who worked on the installation side of these systems and arranged the install. We were in business!

We immediately saw great results after having our system installed. The magic of the system was working in our favor, and our customers, and we, were thrilled. We went with a refurbished 3M system to save some money. Drive-thru system companies are little difficult to find and work with, even over the internet, in my experience. However, you can find new and refurbished systems on Ebay.

Now, almost two years in, we are experiencing percentages of drive-thru vs. inside sales similar to my past experience! We are seeing more than half of our sales come through the drive-thru. It’s nice to be right, for once!

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