Starbucks has big plans to speed up its drive-thrus

Coffee chain plans improvements for lines, drive-thru-only restaurants

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has boosted restaurants’ drive-thru options while forcing dining rooms to close. Starbucks, however, is looking to capitalize on the increasing popularity of its own drive-thrus well beyond the pandemic.

Outgoing Starbucks COO Roz Brewer discussed the chain’s “future drive-thru” plans during a conference call with investors this week, QSR Magazine reported. The idea is to make the process faster and more efficient, and some major changes may be on the way.

The Seattle-based coffee chain’s drive-thru sales have increased by more than 10% since the pandemic began, according to the report. And CEO Kevin Johnson told investors that Starbucks' U.S. drive-thrus have already seen a “slight” improvement in service time in the past few months.

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“These results give us confidence that our targeted initiatives to unlock capacity and enhance the customer experience at our drive-thru locations are boosting our business recovery while strengthening our foundation for future growth,” he said.

There are three main ways Starbucks is looking to boost its drive-thrus, according to the report. The first is to optimize existing drive-thrus and operations to speed up service.

Starbucks is looking to capitalize on the increasing popularity of its own drive-thrus well beyond the pandemic. (Starbucks)

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The second plan, which is already in place at about 300 Starbucks locations and being added to 200 more by the end of next month, is to have employees walk drive-thru lines with handheld point-of-sale devices so they can take orders in advance like at Chick-fil-A, according to the report. Starbucks will also renovate 150 stores to be compatible with its upgraded operations.

The biggest change may be in new Starbucks stores, which could be built as drive-thru-only locations, according to the report. They would have no seating for guests but would have multiple drive-thru lanes.

Starbucks’ drive-thru sales have increased by more than 10% since the pandemic began. (Starbucks)

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Brewer told investors those new locations would be “very small.” They’ll primarily be built in the central U.S., as well as across the Southeast and Southwest.

“We’ve got considerable work in this area to unlock the full potential for drive-thrus,” she said.