The Future of the Coffee Drive-Thru

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages around the world with 54% of people over the age of 18 drinking an average of 3.1 cups of coffee every day.

As the demand for coffee grows, the way consumers order and buy it must constantly evolve. Coffee shop owners are faced with a challenge: how can you serve more and more people at faster and faster speeds? 

The future isn't always clear, but here are the latest technology and menu trends that make the future of the coffee drive-thru less foggy...



Next generation drive-thru technology. 


An average of 250 cups of espresso and coffee drinks are sold per day at almost any espresso drive-thru business. And the drive-thru model is rising in popularity - Starbucks announced that 60% of future stores will include drive-thrus, in part because of the higher margins they realize there. The need to get the most out of the drive-thru and maximize speed-of-service is greater now more than ever.

Many coffee drive-thrus are still using old fashioned speakerbox ordering systems. But as customer volume goes up, why devote a staff member to transcribing orders into a legacy POS?

By upgrading to the latest Touchscreen Drive-Thru technology, customers gain full control of their order input, reducing miscommunication issues. Staff focuses on fulfilling orders (correctly), which speeds up throughput, keeping the line moving and customers smiling as they grab their coffee on-the-go.

Check out the video to see how QC Fuel implemented and promoted their coffee drive-thru, as an example.


Mobile order + pay ahead options.


Convenience is key in the coffee industry. In 2015 Starbucks introduced their mobile order-and-pay app in hopes that it would free up the dreaded long lines that pile up during peak hours. So far, it seems to be working for Starbucks and their customers. Starbucks said payments that are made via mobile app have increased to 30% of transactions in US stores so far. Customers have the option when picking up their coffee to either go in the store and grab it from the hand-off plane or to coast through the drive-thru lane.

Coffee giant Dunkin' (who recently ditched the "Donuts" from their name) is feeling the pressure of mobile ordering demands. During a rebranding phase, they decided to add mobile ordering to the mix. In early 2018 Dunkin' revealed their newest concept, featuring a drive-thru window dedicated to customers who order through their mobile app. Customers who order through the DD perks app will merge straight into the "Mobile Order Pick Up" lane to avoid customers who are ordering in real time. Although there are still concerns with this new ordering option, it seems to be making its way to more coffee shops. 

To accommodate a boost in mobile ordering, your best answer may lie in marrying technologies together: mobile ordering and the Touchscreen Drive-Thru go hand-in-hand when it comes to convenience. Using the two together offers a seamless way for customers to get their coffee fast. Once a customer rolls up to the drive-thru, they can simply enter their PIN or phone number, notifying the barista that they're here and ready, and then immediately pull up to the window to get their coffees.



Menus that keep demand growing.


While technology and convenience are important assets to the coffee drive-thru, we can't forget about what's on the menu. Specialty coffee drinks are on the rise: 59% of Americans drink specialty coffee weekly, up from 45% in 2016. The fastest growing demographic of coffee drinkers is the 13- to 18-year-old age group. As a result of this rapid growth, the coffee industry is changing and creating new specialty drinks that appeal to the tastes and desires of younger consumers. Here are some trends that will spark the interest of this growing coffee-drinking demographic:

Nitro Coffee - This specialty drink involves infusing coffee with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen gas makes tiny bubbles creating a creamy texture with carbonation that results in a very strong and delicious drink. Caribou Coffee recognized the demand for nitro coffee and is testing it out in two of their locations. A bonus for the health conscious consumers - due to the foamy consistency, different flavors catch your tastebuds without any added sugar.

Super Coffee - Mix coffee with protein powders or super foods to enhance energy, stamina, and overall performance throughout the day. According to Mintel, 42% of consumers would like to see added nutritional benefits in coffee such as probiotics, vitamins and minerals. Super coffee drinks can be an easy add-on menu item, like an extra shot of espresso, but in this case it would be a shot of protein powder. 

Cold Brew Coffee - Different than iced coffee, which is hot coffee poured over ice, cold brew is created by brewing coffee with cold water. This results in a less acidic and smoother tasting coffee drinking experience. Cold brew coffee sales increased by approximately 80%. Taking cold brew up a notch, Starbucks recently announced their new "colorful cold brew" menu items for select locations in Asia this spring. 

Visually Appealing Coffee - This could be as simple as drizzling chocolate syrup around the inside of an iced drink or creating a limited time drink that consumers MUST get their hands on before it's gone, like the unicorn frappuccino from Starbucks.  The crazier and more colorful the coffee looks, the higher chance that it will go viral on Instagram. Millennials and Gen Zers are all about unique food and drinks that will make them stand out on their social media profiles. 


want to upgrade your drive-thru technology?

Find out how the Touchscreen Drive-Thru can work to enhance your guests' experience and drive operational efficiency.