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Musings on the Foodservice Industry

Drive-Thru Coffee Kiosks: Express Expressos

The other day we were driving around town from one meeting to another, hurried as usual and in great need of a shot of espresso.

We didn’t want to stop at the local Starbucks® where we would have had to wait 10-15 minutes for our caffeine boost, and the donut shop’s diluted offerings would not be satisfying. Then we saw it: a drive-thru coffee kiosk that was fortuitously located in the mall parking lot.

We pulled in behind a couple of cars, and within a few minutes were back on the road sipping an excellent organic South American dark roast that was as good as any coffee we could have ordered at a chain coffee shop.

Drive-thru coffee stands or kiosks have taken off in the last decade in line with the increased popularity of coffee. As the demand for coffee and tea continues to grow, look for more stands on corner parking lots throughout Main Street, U.S.A.

Drive-thrus are an inexpensive way to get into the coffee business.  The average 1,200 sq. ft. coffee house could cost as much as $375,000 to open.    A drive-thru, however, can be opened for around $35,000 – although some have cost upwards of $150,000.  There are also dozens of franchise opportunities for drive-thru coffee entrepreneurs (note there will be additional costs).10445442-large

To stand out in the crowded coffee market, themed coffee stands such as bikini baristas began to take off in the early 2000’s. With women serving drinks in lingerie or bikinis, the coffee was the sideshow as these “sexpresso” shops took off. Customers love the fun menu items, such as Natte Latte, Peek-a-Brew, and Java Jigglers.

More recently, drive-thru coffee kiosks went after the hot, current trend of sustainability.  For instance, many are now offering organic coffees, fair trade and shade-grown coffees, as well as using compostable cups and servingware. Others offer a discount for those who drive hybrids or bring their own mugs, and sometimes, cyclists and pedestrians receive deeper discounts for having the lowest form of footprint.

As with any smart restaurant or beverage stand, you can promote your own brand through your packaging, sweeteners and condiments. Consumers are more apt to ask for a certain color (pink, green, blue, yellow, white or brown) than a particular brand name when sweetening their coffees and teas, so you might as well place your moniker on the package as another branding opportunity.

To even further the efficiency of coffee delivery, offer online and mobile ordering so hurried thirsty customers can actually order ahead of time.  Reward them with a great loyalty program, too.

With so many people on the move, the sky’s the limit for drive-thrus.  And it sure beats waiting in those long lines.

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