What is the one thing that sets a quick-service restaurant apart from almost all other businesses? The drive thru. Quite simple in design and function, this rather unique element employed by most QSRs provides a level of convenience for the customer and a level of potential profit boost for the owner not recognized in other aspects of the location. Sure, there are downsides to a drive thru from a healthy living perspective but let’s face it – they are supremely convenient and sometimes in our busy lives, convenience WILL trump most everything else.
Back in the October 2011 issue of QSR Magazine, regular contributor Daniel P. Smith released a pretty well thought list titled, “100 Ways to Improve Your Drive Thru”. If you happen to have read through the comments left on the website, you’ll notice a fairly high level of dissension among the posters…….you’ll also notice that really none of them touched upon the points involving design and construction. Perhaps it’s just our lucky day here at River’s Edge Project Management that we happen to be QSR design and construction consultants – after reviewing Smith’s list, I personally think he nailed quite a few points very well. I’ll comment on a couple here, but I’d go read the entire list if you’re looking into a drive thru for your next location.
The biggest complaint that I hear from my clients is that their drive thru ends up looking like an afterthought; the design element and planning were possibly not given the time they deserved while focus was placed on the rest of the restaurant. Number 30 in Smith’s list expresses this reality and cautions owners to avoid not giving their drive thru design the highest attention. Often times our franchisee clients seek our guidance in figuring out how to add in a drive thru lane that makes sense to their location. This is a pretty easy task if you are building from the ground up, but especially in our current economic situation ground-up builds for QSRs are exceedingly rare. I think I’ve worked on maybe 4 in the last 5 years (out of 115+ projects). That leaves us with designing around an existing building and more often than not a strip center.
Number 98 in Mr. Smith’s list cautions owners against installing a drive thru lane with tight bends or directional changes. This is an ever present dilemma when trying to plan and install a drive thru in a strip center. What do you do? Do you make the customer drive around the entire complex to get back to your window? Do you make them pull a u-turn in the rear of the lot to enter your lane? The options are few and sometimes it simply becomes choosing the lesser of two evils. My suggestion to my clients in these situations is to physically get out there in their own vehicle – drive around the building, perform the u-turn, pretend to order even. What works and what seems to cause an issue?
There are a lot of things to consider when building a new restaurant of any type or concept – from design to installation, from permitting to possession – if you are a restaurant owner and operator first and not a construction pro, I urge you to seek out help during this phase of development. You don’t have to hire River’s Edge, though I promise you’ll be better off if you do, but find a partner to guide your construction phase properly so you can devote your focus to getting your new business ready to run. Let me know what your biggest drive thru development challenges have been in the comments below. Feel free to leave any specific questions you may have and we’ll do our best to get you pointed in the right direction.