Why has drive-thru coffee become so popular?

Josephine Walbank
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May 4, 2022
drive thru coffee

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of food and drink outlets were forced to close, which meant visiting restaurants and cafes was out of the question for months.

In order to continue making a profit, the majority of roasters and cafes expanded their offerings to include online sales and coffee subscription services, as well as takeout and drive-thru options.

As the world settles into a “new normal”,  many consumers and businesses have embraced the convenience of these offerings, and opted to continue with them. As a result, drive-thru coffee has become increasingly popular.

Drive-thrus allow customers to order, pay, and collect their coffee without having to leave the comfort of their car. It is quick, convenient, and appeals to consumers who are still cautious about exposure to Covid-19.

Read on to find out whether the popularity of drive-thru coffee will continue to rise.

drive thru coffee

What is drive-thru coffee?

Put simply, drive-thru coffee can be purchased and consumed in a car by pulling up to a window at a drive-thru stop.

Generally, a drive-thru is a store that has been converted to give drivers access to all the points needed to make a purchase. This involves viewing the menu, placing an order, and paying – all without having to leave the car.

The driver can then either park and consume the coffee, or drink it while they continue their commute.

Drive-thru coffee can be traced back to 1990, when Motor Moka opened one of the world’s first drive-thru coffee shops in Portland, Oregon.

The founder of Motor Moka, Jim Roberts, alleges that Starbucks was opposed to the idea of a drive-thru at the time. They believed the coffeehouse experience enjoyed in-store could not be replicated in a car.

Thirty years later and drive-thru coffee shops can be seen worldwide. Some of the biggest coffee giants have created drive-thru points, including Costa, Starbucks, and McDonalds.

Notably, just over half of all American Starbucks stores offer drive-thru coffee services. Similarly, 64% of American Dunkin’ Donuts’ stores include drive-thru retail outlets.

According to a 2020 survey, 48% of US respondents revealed they had purchased drive-thru coffee the day before.

Over the last two years, Costa Coffee in the UK has increased its number of drive-thru coffee outlets by over 37% – creating an additional 75 drive-thru locations since 2020.

In addition, the survey revealed 57% of UK consumers would buy coffee from a drive-thru location if the service was readily available.

As can be seen, drive-thru coffee is an emerging market that represents a large section of global specialty coffee sales.

starbucks coffee

Why has it become so popular?

Drive-thru coffee has become increasingly popular among consumers and coffee shop owners for a number of reasons.

The primary reason is its convenience. Drive-thru coffee offers consumers a quick and easy beverage they can enjoy in their vehicle. It is an ideal option for long road trips, the commute to work, or for when the weather is bad.

Additionally, drive-thrus provide an additional revenue stream for coffee businesses. Introducing a drive-thru outlet can attract an additional market without the costs of building a new premises.

This is because many drive-thrus are part of existing stores. Typically, these spaces have designated areas for sit-in customers and a separate section for drive-thru orders.

Typically, cafes have two types of customers: those who are in a rush, and those who want to enjoy a leisurely drinking experience. Each has different requirements.

However, by adding a window that is accessible by car, these stores may have the facilities to accommodate both markets in one location.

Furthermore, adding a drive-thru window is an effective way for coffee shop owners to boost sales. It helps attract new customers in the form of drivers who pass by, and may increase the number of repeat sales.

Another reason drive-thru coffee has increased in popularity is because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As many cafes and restaurants were forced to close, they had to alter their offerings to continue making a profit.

Coupled with online coffee sales, this included expanding their takeaway offerings to include taking orders through mobile phone apps and implementing drive-thrus. As a result, drive-thru usage has increased by 6% over the last three years.

Notably, this trend has also been fuelled by the rise of sustainable takeaway packaging. Traditional takeout materials are being replaced with modern alternatives such as biodegradable and plastic-free packaging.

Consequently, sustainable takeaway materials have been a key factor in the increasing popularity of drive-thru coffee. This may be because more consumers are willing to support environmentally friendly practices.

drive thru coffee

How to choose takeaway cups for drive-thru orders

When considering adding a drive-thru service to your coffee shop, you will need to choose the right type of takeaway cup.

If the cup is too thin, the coffee’s temperature could drop too quickly, which may alter a consumer’s perception of the coffee’s flavour.

Furthermore, if the cup is unsustainable, it could deter potential customers who are willing to sacrifice convenience to protect the planet.

With this in mind, when choosing a takeaway cup for drive-thru orders, it is recommend you consider the following:

Size

First, your choice of takeaway cup must be suitable for the typical cup holders found in vehicles. This will help ensure customers enjoy a spill and stress-free drinking experience.

Most standard-sized takeaway cups cover a range extending from extra small (4oz/120ml) to large (16oz/454ml). However, adding a cup sleeve to your takeaway coffees could impact their dimensions, which may make them incompatible with certain cup holders.

Essentially, when placed in a car cup holder, your takeaway cup should be easy to insert and remove without spilling.

Insulation

Ideally, the coffee should be kept warm for as long as possible, as consumers are likely to sip on it throughout their drive.

Therefore, you will need to choose a well-insulated coffee cup with a lid that fits securely on top.

A double-walled coffee cup consists of two layers of material with a thin insulating layer of air between them.

Not only does this maintain the heat of the coffee by acting like “double glazing”, it also allows consumers to carry it around without the need for an additional sleeve.

Alternatively, single wall cups are disposable cups that consist of a single layer of material. Typically made from uncoated paperboard, they offer a convenient, lightweight, and cost-effective option for roasters and coffee shops.

However, as single wall cups are thinner, they provide less insulation and may have a higher risk of leaking when handled too roughly.

Materials

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to a majority of consumers.

A 2021 report published by Deloitte states that avoiding single-use plastics is the most common way consumers demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. At least 61% of respondents say they have cut back on plastic use.

Brands that do not use recyclable or compostable cups may build a negative brand reputation, which can impact sales.

By investing in sustainable coffee cup materials, you can build a positive brand image that consumers will be proud to support.

Furthermore, it may help maximise the success of your drive-thru venture, as sustainable materials are often a cost effective option for many businesses.

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you source, design, and brand takeaway cups for your drive-thru coffee offerings. Our range of sustainable cups are made from either kraft paper or PET and are coated with eco-friendly alternatives such as PLA – a plant-based bioplastic made from renewable resources.

We offer cups in three different sizes: 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz. Each one is available to order as either single or double wall. Furthermore, we sell sleeves for all three sizes.

For more information on takeaway coffee cups, contact our team.

Why has drive-thru coffee become so popular?

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