Drive-Throughs to the Rescue


Many restaurants have long recognized the value of the drive-through. A time-honored tradition that dates back to the days of ordering through squawky metal speakers and cheerful servers on roller skates, today’s restaurant drive-throughs are more high-tech and suit the fast-paced nature of our daily lives. Add in the current state of shelter-in-place orders and limited mobility and the drive-through also represents something else – possible economic survival.

According to QSR Magazine, restaurants lost $25 billion dollars during the first three weeks of March alone. The situation across the country changes daily and restaurants are trying to figure out how to comply with state and local mandates while also keeping their balance sheets in mind. Many experts in the restaurant, fast food and Quick Service Retail (QSR) business believe that the overall industry will be stronger going forward and will benefit from the lessons that will be learned. During these unprecedented times, fast food and fast-casual restaurants may be focusing on drive-through only models and how they can be a key element while updating existing stores for when doors can open again.

Drive-through only model as template for success

For some restaurants, a drive-through modular unit is a temporary solution. For others, it becomes a template for success and future builds. Modular units can be as simple and condensed or expansive as needed, giving more overall room for drive-through lanes and walk-up business. While some restaurants have turned to a drive-through only model to deal with labor shortages and bottlenecked traffic, many find that they meet the way consumers had been living, accommodating busy lives, and suiting mobility limitations given the current state of the world. For some restaurants, the drive-through has long been a staple of their service; for others, it’s an adaptation to their standard service that may show staying power for the long term.

Temporary support for a permanent improvement

For restaurant owners, one of the most difficult decisions is knowing when to remodel or completely rebuild as it usually means closing for a period of time. Proactive brands with enough capital are moving forward on those plans and using modular construction to help them bridge the gap between existing structure and new location. Pop-up or semi-permanent units installed on existing site property provides continuity as a walk-up location or drive through-only model; see how Chick-Fil-A created their space. These modular structures allow the restaurant to continue to serve customers when inside service isn’t possible due to construction—or, like today’s climate, due to environmental factors out of their control. This continuity helps customers stay connected to their favorite restaurants and not bypass them for another location further down the road when cravings hit.

In today’s rapidly changing economic environment, some in the industry are advising restaurants to go on the offensive and do whatever it takes to continue working. In a recent article in QSR magazine, Modern Market cofounder and co-CEO Anthony Pigliacampo advised those in the restaurant industry to take “advantage of knowledge, ideas, programs, and other resources available to the industry.” With curbside and drive-through still available, quick serve restaurants can remain open while following state and local guidelines to keep people safe and employed.

New habits are forming, both on the part of the consumer and the restaurant. The ability of restaurants to adapt in a time of crisis will determine their success in the future.