How chains are rethinking drive-thru for a post-pandemic future

Red Rooster and Gloria Jean’s Coffees, together with subject matter experts, discuss the status of the channel in QSR Media’s most recent webinar.

The growth of the drive-thru channel amidst COVID-19 has prompted the industry to seriously rethink its value to their businesses.

For Red Rooster, this meant also rethinking their approach to a myriad of aspects of their operations.

“We've had to change the way we look at NPD (new product development), we’ve had to change the way we look at marketing, we've had to change the way we look at IT [and] supply chain,” said Nathan Kelk, the chain’s director of commercial operations.

“The results have been really strong. We've got more sales and ultimately, more capacity in our drive-thru [stores]. And we've actually had better times than we've ever had before.”

Also seeing growth in the drive-thru channel in the past 12 months, Gloria Jean’s Coffees, which has 11 drive-thru stores so far, says these models are “definitely in the forefront” of the chain’s future.

“When COVID came along in 2020, it became clear that drive-thru represents safety as well as convenience, which was something we hadn't considered prior to that,” Gloria Jean’s Coffees general manager Karina Murphy said. “With a convenient and socially-distant service, COVID gave drive-thrus an immediate advantage over shopping centers and strip locations.”

Rethinking drive-thru also gave chains the confidence to try out new ideas to improve the channel itself.

“Globally, we're seeing brands which are traditionally conservative with drive-thru, even just store design, really throwing out huge amounts of ideas...and using this as an opportunity to lay out concepts, ideas, technology that they probably wanted to try,” Fingermark chief executive officer Luke Irving observed, citing chains with an existing lane eyeing to add more to meet demand.

Coming from a design perspective, ‎BD Architecture & Interiors director Paul Sabatini says there is opportunity for chains to pursue the “humanisation” of the drive-thru experience whilst upgrading its technology.

“We started talking to some of our partners about the terminology that was being used in the drive-thru lanes. And you might not think that this is a design consideration but the terminology that you use also shapes the way that a building or a drive-thru lane is designed,” he explained.

The executives shared their thoughts during a panel discussion in QSR Media’s Rethinking Drive-Thru in the COVID-19 Age webinar held last May 26.

Drive-Thru Webinar Speakers

From left to right, clockwise: BD Architecture & Interiors director Paul Sabatini, Fingermark CEO Luke Irving, Fingermark head of data Michael Roseingrave, Gloria Jean's Coffees general manager Karina Murphy, Red Rooster director of commercial operations Nathan Kelk and The NPD Group foodservice director Sanjev Kangatharan.

Data from the The NPD Group revealed drive-thru experienced positive growth in the five most recent quarters, even outperforming the whole QSR segment in the most recent March quarter. 

In the three quarters to March of this year, a la carte or individual meal offerings contributed the most. Looking at the demographics, Millennials aged 18 to 34 were the biggest spenders in the same period.

“That's quite an interesting factor because it tells us that whilst bundle meals or combo meals that are being offered are quite popular, consumers are also after a bit of customization. They're also willing to choose their own menu items to add on to those combo meals, or even create their own types of bundles by choosing different menu items,” foodservice director Sanjev Kangatharan said in a recorded presentation during the event.

Burgers, both fried chicken and beef, were the top growing items for some of the major chains in the latest March quarter. Motivators for drive-thru growth, Kangatharan said, revolved around quality and price.

“Drive-thru has been a significant driver of the QSR channel and thus the food service industry. It will continue to be so because of the slow vaccine rollout that we have in this country, as well as the fact that a lot of consumers have been heavily accustomed to off-premises ordering methods such as drive thru and delivery,” he said. “We do expect both drive-thru and delivery to continue to have strong growth throughout most of 2021.”

Want more insights from the Rethinking Drive-Thru in the COVID-19 Age webinar? Watch the event on demand below:

Rethinking Drive-Thru in the COVID-19 Age from Charlton Media Group on Vimeo.


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