Dec. 4, 2005
In the restaurant industry time is money. Which may explain why drive-thrus, offering quick service to millions of customers each day, coupled with the explosive growth of coffeehouses are watching their profits soar into the fast lane. Starbucks, a pillar in the coffeehouse world, recently announced their fourth quarter earnings and fiscal year end 2005 results – describing them as 'record breaking.' The coffeehouse that first got its start in 1971 in Seattle's Pike Place Market and was named after the first mate in Moby Dick, had consolidated net revenues increase 20% to $6.4 billion and net earnings increase 27% to $494 million. They also announced their highest annual store openings in company history – with 1,672 new stores. Located in 37 countries with more than 10,000 locations Starbucks serves approximately 35 million customers per week worldwide – and many of them never step foot into the store. "There are currently more than 1,050 drive-thru locations in North America," explains Sanja Gould of Starbucks. "This includes continued growth and development of new and different stores types, such as drive-thrus and kiosk locations." Gould adds that stores are an integral part of the overall brand experience for Starbucks and the company places great importance in renovating locations to add new and innovative features such as drive thrus. "This year we estimate that 50% of our new store openings in the US will be drive thrus," says Gould. "As we open new locations, we strive to maintain the "Third Place" experience, whereby our stores are warm and inviting and an integral part of their communities. Providing a drive-thru is just one more way to better serve our customers," says Gould. Drive thru service at Starbucks has been well received and includes a wide range of customers who are able to order from the same menu that in store guests select from. Whether they are mothers with sleeping infants in the car or busy executives on the way to work – to those that don't want to walk through bad weather to get their morning cup of coffee – it seems the convenience of never getting out of the car appeals to the masses. Coffee Beanery Another specialty coffee chain that opened in the late 1970's is paying more attention to who's driving thru their caffeinated lane. Coffee Beanery based out of Michigan and recognized for their unique family business approach opened their first drive thru in 1993. "We have approximately 200 locations and 4 or 5 of them have drive-thru currently available," says President JoAnne Shaw. "We saw it as a trend and noticed competitors opening them," she explains. "It takes a certain location to make a drive thru work." Shaw is referring to the long list of essentials that drive the success of drive-thru windows. "A location that has good traffic for one – with plenty of cars going by," adds Shaw. Coffee Beanery does traffic counts at each location several times a day – morning, mid-day and afternoon to help evaluate traffic patterns and determine when customers are visiting their window most often. "I would estimate that an average of 30% of our customers are drive-thru guests," says Shaw. Other factors that help drive traffic include good visibility with appealing signage and the ability for customers to get in and out without feeling trapped or being inconvenienced. "If your customer has to make 6 or 7 turns to get it's not going to feel convenient and fast," says Shaw. Speed and accuracy are perhaps the two most important factors that company's such as Coffee Beanery focus on. "The speed of an order is noticed more at a drive thru," says Shaw. "We focus on training on speed and service, as well as training personalities so that the experience is fun and they are greeted and handled correctly." Technology has also helped with factors such as speed and accuracy – with innovations such as swipe cards payments. The Coffee Beanery currently uses headset technology with their ordering system but is considering upgrading in the future to accommodate the fast paced nature of drive-thru guests. Coffee Beanery offers a reduced menu at the drive-thru with products such as brewed and specialty coffee, a few sandwiches and iced beverages. "We've recently opened a dual brand with Cinnabon," says Shaw, "but it's too early to tell how things are going there." It is likely that companies such as the Coffee Beanery will continue adding drive thrus to their locations with the continued demand and growing customer base that coffeehouses are experiencing. Shaw estimates it costs them 10% more to build with a drive thru than without. Coffee Beanery is seeing their largest growth take place in areas out West and in the Northeast and already have 40 stores scheduled to open. Current locations include 23 states in the US as well as China, Korea, the Middle East and their first location on a military base in Qatar. In addition to their geographic bases expanding Shaw says she sees her customer base growing as well. "The size of the aging population as well as younger coffee drinkers, such as Jr. High students picking up frappe lattes, is making customers start younger and stay longer."