Drive thru restaurants: not just for burgers anymore

4 MINS Team

In Southern California, where I live, we are car dependent. So it’s no wonder we’re surrounded by numerous drive thru restaurants—mostly serving up burgers, chicken or tacos.

But as Americans have gotten busier and more time-challenged, we’re all looking for convenience (and choice) from restaurant owners. Here’s how a few companies are tackling the increased demand.

Healthier Choices

The idea for a drive thru at Which Wich Superior Sandwiches actually came from a franchisee, says Jeremy Cook, VP of real estate and construction. The company currently has one drive thru unit open and two other restaurants almost ready. But in those two units, Which Wich is going away from the more traditional drive thru and creating an interactive process, where customers will be able to order using a Touch Screen Kiosk. This enables them to easily customize their orders, which is what Which Wich is known for.

Cook says the company, which has over 320 locations, is excited about the “flexibility” drive thrus offer, despite the additional 10 to 15 percent cost of opening a drive thru unit.

Convenience Counts

Jim Powers, a Philly Pretzel Factory franchisee in West Chester, Pennsylvania, says he has three young kids and personally knows how much easier and more convenient drive thrus make it for consumers.

If you’re considering adding a drive thru component (or opening one), Powers says you “have to be quick and efficient,” which, he adds, is not a challenge for his units since they already have systems in place to provide quick service. But his drive thru unit is not a traditional drive thru—there’s no speaker. Powers says customers drive up and order from the window directly.

Powers lucked out because the building he had already purchased (and had been “eyeing for years” for just that reason) had a drive thru, so he didn’t have to spend more money opening a drive thru unit (his other unit is a traditional location).

Operating a drive thru, Powers believes, broadens the appeal of his Philly Pretzel Factory because it makes ordering easier for families with young kids.

No Slim Pickin’s Here

For a more traditional point of view I talked to Brandy Bartholomew, director of marketing at Slim Chickens, a small, but growing fast-casual chain headquartered in Arkansas. Bartholomew says most (87 percent) of the chain’s 15 units are drive thrus.

Although the franchise’s drive thru units are open the same hours as the rest of the chain, they generate more revenue, Bartholomew says, because drive thrus “allow you to serve double the amount of customers at one time.”

Slim Chickens has taken advantage of technology and is beta testing a cloud-based digital menu board. This allows the equipped units to customize offerings, such as promoting hot cocoa or other hot drinks right at the top of the menu on a freezing morning, or changing prices to offer instant promotions. It also helps promote a sense of community. For instance, if a local sports team wins a big game, the franchise can add text to the menu board to congratulate the local team in real time.

So far, Bartholomew says the digital menu boards have been well received, partly because they’re more visual and easier to read and update.

Bartholomew says it is more expensive to build a drive thru unit, “but the additional revenues makes up for the additional costs.”

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Photo Courtesy: Slim Chickens

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

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