Drive-through coffee stands have become increasingly popular in the last ten years, but few know the secrets to making them profitable. Even franchisees of popular chains fail to achieve the same level of success as the corporate-owned locations.
A franchise can cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, so most café entrepreneurs turn to small business start up loans. With that level of investment, you didn’t start your business as a hobby, so it’s time to stop treating it like one. Hence you want to spend some time and energy on every key step in starting and running your business.
Running a profitable drive-thru coffee shop is all about speed. If you can increase speed, you can increase sales. Here’s how to do it:
1. Schedule at least two people in the afternoon/evening
If you ask any drive-thru café owner why they only staff one person in the afternoon, they’ll tell you business is slow and doesn’t support staffing more people. It seems logical at first. No business should staff more people than sales justify. However, in the drive-thru coffee business, sales that only justify staffing one person is a symptom of a bigger problem.
Drive-thru coffee appeals to people for three main reasons. One, people like tasty coffee. Two, people don’t want to get out of their car. And three, people perceive drive-thru options as faster than parking and walking into a store. What people expect from a drive-thru coffee shop is tasty coffee served quickly. It’s that simple.
However, if you’re not busy enough to staff more than one person, either your coffee is bad, or you’re not delivering on speed.
Not staffing enough people is causing your low profits; it’s not an unfortunate side effect. It just seems like an unfortunate side effect because you don’t know how to use staff members to increase speed and, therefore, increase the number of cars that drive through.
The speed of service depends on a minimum of three staff members at all times. It’s possible to get by with two, but the ideal numbers are five during the morning rush (usually 7am-11am), and three at all other times. This only works when you put staff members into specific and dedicated positions to maximize speed and efficiency. Remember, increasing sales is all about speed, and the way you increase speed is by maximizing the efficiency of staff positions.
2. Have dedicated positions
All staff members should be dedicated to a single position and not allowed to deviate for a moment. It sounds harsh, but it’s essential for success. Drive-thru coffee shops become chaotic when staff members don’t have dedicated roles, and are encouraged to go into other people’s spaces, reach over people to grab supplies “really quick,” or make someone’s drink “really fast.” Those actions seem normal, but they throw people out of their groove. If you want speed, you need to allow people to get into a routine that goes undisturbed.
Here’s a breakdown of what each staff member should be doing to maximize speed:
Position 1: Bar
You should have one dedicated person on bar working the espresso machines, and nobody else should be allowed into their space.
You need a dedicated bar position during all hours of operation. For example, say you staff two people in the afternoon. One person should take orders between the two windows, and the other person should stay on the bar to make the drinks. Allowing both people to make drinks and also greet customers will slow down drink prep time.
Positions 2 & 3: Window/cashier
Each window needs a dedicated cash register and cashier. Otherwise, your speed will suffer and so will your sales. The worst thing you can do to your customers is provide two windows and one barista. The perception of an open window is no wait time. When the customer pulls up and has to wait because there’s only one staff member, reality hits hard.
A successful drive-thru coffee shop can pull in $1,500-$2,000/day in sales and serve each customer in 60 seconds or less. You can’t reach that level of speed with one cashier or one register.
Position 4: Greeter
The greeter is probably the most important position of all, but you only need a dedicated greeter during the morning rush. The greeter’s job is to take orders from cars as they’re waiting in line and give the bar person a heads up on what drinks to make next. Greeters make lines move faster and make customers in line feel taken care of. Customers who are greeted are less likely to bail out of line.
Just be sure your greeter is a dedicated greeter. If cashiers double as greeters, greeting will be inconsistent; cars will only be greeted between the cashier’s other duties, or when they happen to notice a long line.
Position 5: Expediter
An expediter is someone positioned somewhere in the store to perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult for other positions to perform. For example, if your brewed coffee and blenders are at the back of the store, you want an expeditor to prepare those drinks.
3. Don’t emulate big chains
Finally, don’t emulate the big chains. They’re not fast. For example, speed is something Starbucks has perpetually failed to accomplish due to rules like the person on bar can’t use both espresso machines and they can’t steam milk for multiple beverages in one pitcher.
Increasing sales is simple. Dedicated positions will increase speed, and once your customers get used to that speed, business will pick up.
To operate your business well you really need a plan. And not just a powerpoint or a one page business plan but a detailed business plan that can serve as a complete operating guide for your business. You want to update and use it as a place to develop strategies and tactics for key issues for profitability such as the staffing issues discussed here.
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