Benefits and Challenges of a Drive Thru Coffee Shop

As mobile dining continues to be on the rise, a drive thru coffee shop could be the next step on your Coffeepreneur® journey. The pandemic prompted customers to reconsider the dine-in experience. From sanitation to flexibility to simple convenience, participating in a takeout model just made sense. Now, many coffee drinkers have adopted the drive-thru habit, and it looks like it’s here to stay.

Fortunately for cafe owners, a drive-thru protects you from pandemic effects and matches the ever-changing food and beverage industry. To-go and mobile ordering is king. Plus, it can be more profitable and efficient for your business!

Read on to learn about the different types, benefits, challenges, and operations of a drive thru coffee shop.

Types of Coffee Drive Thrus

You may be wondering, which type of drive thru should I open to maximize my resources? Different types include:

  • Traditional cafe with indoor seating and a drive thru.
  • Drive thru coffee shack or trailer (Which costs between $80,000 and $200,000 to open, not including land). 
  • Coffee shop that also offers other products (like snow cones, ice cream, popsicles, cupcakes, or food) plus a drive thru.

Benefits of Drive Thru Coffee Shops

As demonstrated by the growth of the model, success awaits for drive thru owners! Below are several benefits to consider from a management perspective.

Convenient access for customers.

It should come as no surprise that in a 2021 Deloitte study of 1,000 customers, the most popular option for restaurant ordering was the drive-thru. 61% of surveyees now order delivery or takeout at least once a week, as opposed to 29% one year ago. The pandemic made safety and convenience a priority for customers, and the trend is only expected to continue.

Speed and efficiency.

Not only is speed attractive to customers, it benefits coffee shops. Greater efficiency means more volume can be produced, and in turn, more sales. When baristas understand the drive thru mechanism, more drinks are made for more customers who aren’t taking seats from other customers. It’s a profitable choice for coffee business owners.


Drive thru coffee menu

Flexibility with current coffee shop model. 

Coffeepreneurs® Jennii and Adrian of Beanstalk Coffee and Sno were running a busy sno cone stand across multiple locations. After attending Texas Coffee School, the couple prepared to incorporate coffee into their menu, with a new location set for an early March 2020 opening. When life as we know it suddenly changed, they pivoted to a drive-thru format as every other business shut down. Consequently, the steady flow of cars in line kept the business afloat through the pandemic.

Jennii and Adrian’s quick thinking and flexibility helped their business not only survive, but thrive. Whether you’re starting from scratch or working with an existing store model, a drive-thru helps businesses adapt to meet current demands.

Challenges of Drive Thru Coffee Shops

Opening a new business model won’t come without challenges. A few obstacles to consider with a drive thru coffee shop are:

  • Space. The new format will require an area offset from general parking for the drive thru line. If you have a small, takeout-only space, you can wrap the line around the building. If your existing space also welcomes dine-in guests, you need to consider pedestrian safety and not clogging up your parking lot.
  • Chains and corporate competition. We’re all familiar with the coffee chains that dominate the drive thru market. Your company can stand out as a local business–but make sure your speed, convenience, and customer service don’t fall short to competitors.
  • Harder to build connection and culture (but not impossible!). Although some business owners fear drive thrus as a cold transaction, you can still ensure your customers get an authentic connection. Have a question of the day so that the barista at the window can engage without generic statements such as, “Nice weather we’re having.” Customers love it, and regulars will be excited to see what the new question of the day is at every visit. You can also have a tip jar competition, pay-it-forward program, and other ways for your visitors to participate with your brand. Customer service may not look exactly the same as it does in-store, but get creative on ways to bring it to your drive thru.

How to Operate Efficiently

drive thru

The key to a successful coffee shop drive thru is efficiency. Operate in such a way that your customers are leaving with a high quality product, in a short time, and with a smile on their face. Take a look at the following elements:

Staff deployment.

Train your baristas to fill every role and decide where each barista will be placed for the day. Responsibilities will include taking orders, preparing drinks, and distributing drinks. You can assign a staff person to any number of responsibilities, but keep in mind that too much frenzy can limit connections with customers.

Customer service.

You can still offer a great experience to customers in their cars! They want two things: to get in and out quickly, and to start off their day in a positive manner. Thus, set a goal for “out the window time,” which is the time a customer spends from pulling to the window to pulling away. Teach baristas to maximize efficiency while not making customers feel rushed. Also, give baristas a standard greeting that is warm and friendly without delaying the line. It might include wishing customers good morning and asking their name for the order.


Find a location that catches traffic from your target audience. This could include commuters, residential areas, and school drop-offs. And, check local zoning requirements and any necessary permits you’ll need to operate in the area.


A drive thru menu likely can’t always offer the same array of products as a regular coffee shop because of limited kitchen space. (Unless you’re attached to a full coffee shop or cafe.) But not to worry–too many menu options can stifle a shop’s success! The time and effort you and your baristas put into making a simple list of crafted beverages will earn your customers’ trust.

Are you ready to launch your drive thru coffee shop this year? We teach you the how-to in our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class. View upcoming dates and register to kickstart your Coffeepreneurship® path!

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