Drive-thrus have been one of the most-searched-for property types online for both sales and leases since the pandemic began. That’s probably because, when assessed next to an otherwise comparable-store without drive-thru capability, they’ve historically performed better — even before the world turned upside down. In the past year, for food retailers especially, they became some of the only locations able to perform at all.
Drive-thru properties have become like gold in the retail and restaurant world, the sources explained. In the early days of the lockdown, People were scared. Information was changing. The authorities didn’t want you to touch things or go into stores, and so drive-thrus were critical to offering that kind of convenience.
McDonald’s, for instance, was historically one of the first-ever chains to really put the pedal to the metal on the drive-thru business model, and by early 2020, it had even been doubling down on double-lane drive-thrus, making it uniquely well-prepared for the pandemic.
Brands like McDonald’s thrive specifically on drive-thru as their business model, he continued. We estimated that drive-thrus account for around 70% of McDonald’s sales, and 80% to 90% for some locations. Amid the nationwide lockdown period, some properties actually saw total business surge by 30% to 50%.
And it wasn’t just traditional drive-thru heavyweights like McDonald’s that relied primarily on the drive-thru model for sales in 2020. For example, drugstore operators have realized even more so since the pandemic that it’s not such a good idea to have their sickest customers in the stores. An increase in volume meant it became profitable to equip drugstore properties with drive-thru capacities.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz initially “really resisted” drive-thrus, Egelanian explained, relaying a story he’d been told by a former partner who went on to be the head of real estate for the behemoth coffee chain. “Schultz’s whole idea was to create a place that was arrested in space … a place you want to be in. Drive-thrus were anathema to that.”
Eventually, after “an enormous amount of time designing not only what the Starbucks drive-thru would be like mechanically, but what the experience would be like while you’re waiting in the line, they were able to create some form of ambiance associated with the store. Fast forward to 10 or 15 years ago, and Starbucks was at the point where they would only do stores with drive-thrus.
A pickup window on the side of the building might be the better option, or parking lot access for a curbside pickup model might even be the answer. But in today’s environment, off-premise ordering technology, and an efficient operation to run it, is almost non-negotiable in the retail and restaurant industry. It then comes down to how that plays out from a real estate perspective.