Keys to Successful Quick-Serve Drive-Through Design

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Quick-serve design prioritizes convenience 

Restaurants, especially quick-serve restaurants (QSRs), have sped up the pace of providing convenience-led options for consumers—delivery, curbside pickup, and drive-through.  

Convenience is not new. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, drive-throughs accounted for as much as 70 percent of fast food revenues (NY Times, May 2020). However, what it means to be faster, easier, and now safer is being redefined. From delivery services like Grub Hub to ordering directly on a brand’s mobile app, consumer behavior is changing and so is drive-through design.

Three keys to successful quick-serve drive-through projects

Quick-serve design is complex. Consumers need to have a great brand experience that includes efficiency and good traffic flow for every location in your multi-site growth program. A tough task for even the most seasoned project manager. Including these steps in your process can save you from some unpleasant surprises.


1. Do your due diligence.      drive-thru-due-diligence-image

A thorough investigation of the physical site and research into the local agency requirements can save time and money. Considerations for determining the viability of a location or remodel:

  • Site constraints: Investigating the existing site and/or existing building can uncover unknowns and constraints.
  • Local agency requirements: Local and federal agencies have jurisdictional authority and guidelines about drive-through operations, signage, required directional signs, and more. Sometimes we run into antiquated jurisdictional standards that haven’t kept up with the latest design trends.
  • Local agency processes and fees: The approval process can include traffic studies, traffic fees, utility fees, and public hearings, which can increase timelines and budgets.


2. Make the most of the site space.     drive-thru-site-space-image

Space, organization, and flow are all important factors that go into a site plan. One way to maximize space is to make sure you get accurate data on the site or existing building via an as-built survey.

Most QSR prototypes include a drive-through and they take up site space. Basic questions to address:

  • Is the site zoned for a drive-through? What are the zoning requirements such as visibility, setbacks, and stacking requirements?
  • Is there enough space for the drive-through you want to build?
  • Is there clear and adequate ingress and egress to drive-through lanes?
  • Will an increase in drive-through traffic negatively affect the existing parking and/or pedestrian uses?
  • Does the new traffic pattern work with the surrounding environment?


3. Configure the site to meet your goals.     drive-thru-configure-design-image

Prototypes now include twists on the familiar. For example, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Taco Bell are implementing mobile pickup lanes (National Restaurant News, August 2020). Dedicated spaces for curbside pickup and delivery services are both important. Some brands are also rolling out a smaller store footprint. Your goals and location, with any potential limitations, need to align. Considerations could include:

  • What type of drive-through or drive-up system works best with your existing lot configuration and goals? Single, double, or even triple drive-through lanes?
  • Are drive-throughs well-coordinated with pickup locations and dedicated pickup lanes?
  • Given site conditions, can you integrate all the desired technology (signage, payment systems, etc.)?
  • Does the whole site flow and work together as a brand experience?


Let’s talk about your next project.

PM Design Group is an architecture and engineering firm that works with some of the best-known brands in the world. Our clients include McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Rite Aid, Chase Bank, 7-Eleven, and Chevron to name a few. Licensed in all 50 states, we focus on national brand rollout programs.


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