Covid-19 has impacted many industries, but the restaurant industry could arguably have had the biggest impact to their operations. Especially in Michigan, with dine-in shut down longer than any other state. Most of those restaurants near our office with drive-thrus were backed up to the road before, during and following peak times. Should national restaurant brands of quick serve (QSR), fast casual, and casual dining restaurants be planning for a future with less dining-in and more business taking place in their parking lots due to societal shifts and the convenience of third-party delivery? Some brands are ramping up with multiple drive-thru windows to filter through customers even more quickly. If they don’t have space for a drive-thru or a drive-up/pick-up window, they have set up their parking lot for pick-up service or a walk up area inside the door.
According to NRN Magazine in their article, “COVID Is Forcing Restaurants to Rethink, Modernize Drive-Thru Lanes” from 10/5/20, “For decades, drive-thru lanes have been the main driver of sales at fast-food chains, generating anywhere from 60% - 70% of sales.” They were speaking specifically about QSR, but there could be value in investing in renovated or added pick-up service for many fast causal or casual dining service types.
Double or triple-drive thrus are good for filtering a lot of customers through for those restaurants that have the room and technology to organize distribution this way. Some QSRs are even considering if they need as big of dining room going forward, thinking it may be more effective to take that space to add an additional drive-thru. However, if operations aren’t set up for taking orders through a speaker, as most Casual Dining restaurants aren’t, a drive-up window for picking up orders (no on-site ordering) may be a lucrative addition and safer for servers so they aren’t trying to match a car with an order while diners without a parking spot circle the drive during busy peak times. Otherwise, labeling parking spots for pick-up distribution will set up a restaurant even when dining rooms can open back up. We don’t know how the pandemic will effect dining once it’s considered over or how much third-party delivery will continue to grow.
What is involved with creating your own drive-up or drive-thru window? We would have to consider the site, the space available, and municipal regulations to create a design and then construct. Chiptole’s CFO stated in “Chains Find Drive-Thrus Worthy Investment” article on restaurantbusinessonline.com that it costs $70,000 to invest in their drive-thrus, but they generate 10-15% higher volume at each location. For them the expense is worth the investment.
Working with a general contractor, like Wolgast, that is experienced with prep and installation of single or double-drive thrus, will help you to quickly get set-up with very little, to no, down time. Wolgast is the Premiere Restaurant Contractor in Michigan having worked with numerous national brand corporations and franchisees. There is a learning curve for a contractor who hasn’t worked with drive-thrus before. Our Director of Restaurants, Eric Schwartzly, said, “operationally, it takes some time to understand the flow through the traffic lane and picking up the food”, but we can help you figure it out. Additionally, we can help with site selection for future locations or designing added drive-thru operations to meet municipal regulations and corporate’s guidelines.
Your Turn: Restaurant Operators, between delivery service popularity and a shift toward convenience for families, could parking lots and pick up windows become as important as dining rooms? What kind of questions do you have regarding enhancing your restaurant’s parking lot delivery?