Home / Drinks / How to open a drive thru coffee shop

How to open a drive thru coffee shop

Many people get to a certain stage in their life when they start thinking of alternative ways of making a living. Thus, outside of working for the boss. Many wish to become the boss and open a small business, often a coffee shop.

People think of moving to a picturesque area and opening a cafe or tea room, which is a great thing to do. BUT, opening a coffee shop is not without its stresses, one of which is the overhead costs involved.

One way of cutting these overheads would be to open a drive thru coffee shop.

Way back in 2007, the papers were full of the fact that the UK was about to get its first drive thru coffee shop, a Starbucks, just outside Cardiff. The USA, of course, has had drive thrus for years; it’s a thriving multi-million pound business in the US. The press inform us that there are 21,000 drive thrus in the USA, and that Drive thrus account for half of Starbucks stores in the domestic market, HALF! (this was in 2007, so I guess things may have changed since then).

One of the benefits of opening a drive thru coffee shop is that the overhead running costs are lower than those of a high street coffee shop. Whether you choose a static coffee kiosk, or a mobile one there are start up costs. Just as there would be with a high street cafe, but the running costs are fewer.

The main cost with a drive thru is the place itself. The business concept may not be mature enough yet for there to be drive thru premises for rental, so it’s likely that buildings would have to be bought or converted. Likewise, it is doubtful there are many second-hand mobile coffee kiosks, but watch this space in the future as the model expands.

However, there are internet sites that actually let you download drive thru building plans for free, so it’s worth doing some online research in order to make a financial saving. Amazon even sells a drive thru unit ‘off the peg!’ And this is an expanding niche in the market.

With a regular high street cafe, you need tables and chairs, other furniture, substantial heating or air-conditioning (as hopefully the door is opening a lot), debit/credit card facilities, waiting staff, food prep staff, chillers, freezers, dishwashers, crockery, coffee machine, display cabinets, dry goods store, pot wash sink, hand wash sink, prep area, entertainments license (if you don’t want the place to be as quiet as a morgue), waste removal contract, restroom facilities for customers, separate facilities for staff….. The list goes on.

For a drive thru you need a smallish building with two serving hatches, one for taking orders, the other for serving drinks and snacks. You also need a coffee machine, dry goods store, chiller/freezer, restroom for staff, food prep area, pot wash sink, hand wash sink, dry goods store, waste removal contract and that’s pretty much the basics.

With both business models at least one person on site would need a food-handling qualification. As far as equipment goes, most coffee wholesale companies will lease and maintain coffee machines and chillers, providing you buy a certain amount of stock from them.

Customers expect a good range of coffees, teas and hot chocolates, with all the froth and trimmings. Plus a decent range of cakes and maybe a few continental pastries, which may be brought in frozen and baked on site. Their aim is to have a quick coffee and a cake on the run, so customers won’t expect such an extensive menu as a high street coffee store.

As with a high street coffee shop, you need to choose the location for your drive thru carefully, finding a location with a high footfall (or Tyre fall) past your hatch is vital, so the best places are at business parks, near convention centres, at freeway service stations or off main roads. There’s little doubt that this is a business model with enormous financial potential. One that is well-worth considering if you want to be your own boss, but aren’t too fussed about living in a pretty rural idyll, or in car parks.

If you are looking at parking your mobile coffee kiosk in a car park or roadside, you will have to discuss plans with the local authorities first, who may well extract a small fee for the privilege. Rural locations are generally a no-no as there just aren’t enough people passing. However, a drive thru at a popular tourist spot could work.

There’s little doubt that this is a business model with enormous financial potential. One that is well-worth considering if you want to be your own boss, but aren’t too fussed about living in a pretty rural idyll.