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In the Fast Lane

Fast food and other franchise concepts are seeing drive-thrus in their future.

Call it drive-thru mania: Many franchises are starting to see drive-thrus as natural additions to their stores. And we're not just talking about hamburger concepts--many other food and non-food franchises are expecting big things from drive-thrus.

For example, last December, 7-Eleven unveiled its Store of the Future Lab in Plano, Texas, a testing location that included a drive-thru. While the 7-Eleven drive-thru is still in the experimental stages, other convenience store chains are following suit, says Mark Godward of SRE Inc., a Miami industrial engineering firm offering efficiency solutions to full- and quick-service restaurants. "You're going to see many companies experimenting--and a lot of them succeeding--at offering their products via drive-thru," he says.

But even if there is a good customer response, a company's product offering may limit the addition's success. "For example, if somebody stops at 7-Eleven and wants to buy the newspaper for 25 cents, it won't be very profitable for them," Godward explains.

Food, on the other hand, provides more revenue to cover the cost of the drive-thru. "With food, typically the ticket is between $3 and $10, so there's a significant amount of money [to offset the] labor it takes to run the drive-thru," Godward says.

A somewhat unlikely quick-service chain that has found success with drive-thrus is Dunkin' Donuts. The company, which currently operates 1,400 drive-thru locations, opened its first drive-thru in the early '80s. "Everybody's on the go-they don't have the time to stop and park and come into the store," explains Ken Kimmel, president of the Randolph, Massachusetts, franchise.

What makes Dunkin' Donuts an ideal concept for a drive-thru isn't its signature pastries--it's the company's beverage offerings. "It's not so much about doughnuts as it is about coffee," Kimmel says.

To support its drive-thru business, Dunkin' Donuts is always looking for new products that work well out the window. "We will continue to find products that are easy to deliver through drive-thrus and easy to consume in cars," Kimmel says. "As we look at product development, we look at products that can be consumed easily with one hand, so customers don't have to drive with their knees."

"We live in a convenience society--convenience stores, convenient food, everything convenient," says Guy Chiatello, CEO and co-founder of Pickerman's Soups and Sandwiches.

Yet Chiatello found while the opportunity is there, capitalizing on it isn't quite as easy as just opening a window. Last year, a Pickerman's franchisee got approval from the gourmet soups and sandwiches company to build a drive-thru--since it opened, 30 to 35 percent of the store's sales can be attributed to drive-thru business. Yet Pickerman's has opted not to open any more drive-thrus. Why? "We don't feel we're providing the speed of service the customer expects," Chiatello explains, "so it's a question of doing it right or not doing it all."

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