Optimizing Your Drive-Thru for Increased Sales

By Brian Harris


Amazon’s announcement that it plans to enter the drive-thru grocery space has sent a shiver down the spine of some grocery store chains. Of course, like anything in retail, it comes down to execution and planning. The tech giant has launched its Amazon Fresh service in New York, Philadelphia, the Pacific Northwest and parts of California. A drive-thru Amazon fulfillment center is an extension of this concept.

“Some research indicates that a good number of consumers prefer picking up their own orders, even when they order online,” Camille Schuster, Ph.D., president of Global Collaborations Inc. told Forbes in an article about Walmart testing its drive-thru concept.

A few years ago, I remember reading about an independent drive-thru grocery that popped up in an East Coast suburb. The idea flopped, as shoppers frequented any number of local stores in the area to pick up bread and milk. Looking back, the entrepreneur that started that business was ahead of his time.

Drive-Thrus Are In… If Executed Correctly

A drive-thru is like any other section of your store: it must be properly maintained and regularly audited to optimize profitability. If customers aren’t using the drive-thru you are wasting valuable time and resources to keep it open.

Essentially, there are three components of a drive-thru with various components that should be audited:

1. The Lane

  • Are arrows directing traffic clearly marked?
  • Are lanes properly lit at night?
  • Is the approach clear of debris and litter?
  • Do you provide and regularly empty trash containers?
  • Is landscaping neat and orderly? (Related topic: property inspections)

2. Signage

  • Are the signs and speaker clean of mildew and grime?
  • Are the menu boards well lit and the images clear?
  • Are the menu boards displaying the most recent promotions?

3. Employees & Service

  • Are employees in uniform?
  • Do they greet patrons politely and quickly via the speaker?
  • Do they give instructions and move the line along?
  • Are the items correct and is a receipt provided?
  • If it’s a food order, are napkins included?

Upselling the Drive-Thru

There is also an opportunity to upsell at each turn of the drive-thru.

The Lane

Keeping wait time shorter keeps customers happier and expands the number of customers that can be served. It’s why some chains with high-traffic stores are choosing to use double drive-thru lanes.

The Signs

Menu boards are curb appeal 101. Simplifying the board can increase ticket size. If you can’t afford top-of-the-line digital menu boards, use well-lit, quality images to emphasize high-profit offerings. For instance, in the quick-service restaurant world, displaying images of combo meals can improve profits. Similarly, convenience stores that wish to upsell can feature a new product or two, as well as an incentive to use loyalty rewards.

Employees & Service

“Would you like some fries with that?” It’s an age-old cliché that definitely works! Friendly employees who offer an upsell can boost the bottom line. Mention a limited-time offer or special promotion.

Quick Service Magazine reports on the psychology of the upsell and advises operators to train their employees to phrase upsells so that the driver is choosing between two menu items. Just be careful not to “trick” the customer into a bigger spend. It won’t be appreciated when he/she has a more expensive bill than anticipated.

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