The coronavirus has driven a lot if change in retail, hospitality, and restaurant design and operations. Curbside pick-up, delivery, and drive thru’s have taken the main stage and it appears they will play a big part for the foreseeable future. Starbucks, Subway, Walgreens, and others have discussed expanding their drive thru offerings.
While I have not seen anyone talk about it yet, I suspect need grocery store designs will incorporate a drive-thru component to new supermarkets (and, if those go well, lead to renovations at existing stores). The use of several parking spaces for online order pick-up is inefficient and results in grocery staff rushing out into the parking lot (sometimes in inclement weather). Moving forward, grocery stores should have dedicated drive up areas, to the side of the store so as to avoid disrupting in-store shopping. The areas should be covered, with their own staff-only entrance near the back-of-house storage. Technology like geofencing can even alert the store when the customer is within a mile or so of the store, thereby speeding up loading and improving customer service.
A similar approach could be adopted by restaurants which offer an online ordering solution but which do not offer a traditional drive thru (where you order at the time of arrival, like for fast food). Your traditional sit-down restaurants will likely move to incorporate a drive thru pick-up window that can be situated to, like the grocery solution, minimize interference with customers going into the restaurant.
For your traditional fast food restaurants, which often already have a drive thru, there should be an increased focused on improving the customer experience. Too often the sound is lousy and frustrations run high for both the employee and the customer. The drive thru is the only real interaction their customers have with the restaurant. They should be putting their all-star customer service people at the drive thru. They need to invest in high quality audio systems. I would even recommend they add a video component so the customer and employee can see each other, so the employee can smile and welcome the customer to the restaurant, and so they can build a relationship in the brief time that the customer is “at” the restaurant. No one looks forward to ordering food at the drive thru, but this is an opportunity to change that. Think of how Southwest Airlines made the safety demonstrations fun. Now people listen. Imagine if customers had a similar experience at the drive thru. Without question, it would lead to more revenue as customers would choose the QSR with the friendly staff, smiles, and crystal clear audio and video at the drive thru over the neighboring QSR is the oh-so-frustrating drive thru experience of today.
Invest in the drive thru. It is going to play a larger role moving forward and is a great opportunity to drive revenue, improve the quality of life for employees and customers, and to build loyal customers.