Joe To Go

Talking Snack

Caffino, like most drive-thru coffeehouses, offers a pint-sized menu of coffee drinks and baked goods. At most drive-thrus, the selection resembles the upscale brews at more traditional coffeehouses: cappuccino, cafe latte, cafe mocha, espresso, iced coffee and, of course, standard drip coffee. Prices also fall into the same range as those at coffeehouses such as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, with drip coffees going for about $1 to $1.50 and specialty coffees commanding $2 to $3. Some drive-thrus tack on a premium for the benefit of convenience.

Because of limited space and cooking facilities, many drive-thrus limit food items to pastries and other baked goods such as bagels, muffins, scones, cookies and biscotti. Grab-a-Java's Evans tested a lunch menu but admits it didn't fly with customers and was too time-intensive. She has since restricted the food portion of the menu to bakery items.

Limited menus cut down on costs and on inventory, and considering that drive-thru structures sometimes measure little more than 100 square feet, inventory space is at a premium. In fact, space for everything--including employees--is in demand.

At Gotta Java, eight employees split shifts, with three workers on morning duty and two serving up the afternoon brew, while at Grab-a-Java, only two employees assist Evans. Caffino averages 12 employees in addition to a manager and an assistant manager at each location, bringing the company's total number of employees to more than 300.

In the world of drive-thru coffee, space, a restricted menu and quality coffee are all part of a winning blend, but the pièce de résistance is speed. "In a drive-thru situation, speed is paramount," says Titterington. "Our goal is to service a customer in 60 seconds or less."

For many drive-thru operators, location speaks louder than advertising. Aside from some local couponing, most coffeepreneurs let their visibility do the talking. Like many local businesses, drive-thrus typically rely heavily on word-of-mouth marketing. This doesn't mean you can ignore other forms of marketing. What's needed is a creative approach--distribute fliers in your community announcing your grand opening, give customers a "buy one, get one free" offer or create a "latte Tuesday," when all lattes are reduced-price. While this may not seem like traditional marketing, it doesn't require a big outlay of cash, and it can encourage customers to buy more or try a more expensive menu item.

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Joe To Go.

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