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How To Open A Drive Thru Coffee Shop

Updated on December 30, 2013

Many people get to a certain stage in their life when they start thinking of alternative ways of making a living outside of working for the boss. Many wish to become the boss and open a small business, often a coffee shop. People think of moving to a picturesque area and opening a cafe or tea room, which is a great thing to do. BUT, opening a coffee shop is not without its stresses (learn more here), one of which is the overhead costs involved.

One way of cutting these overheads would be to open a drive thru coffee shop.

How To Open A Drive Thru Coffee Shop

 Way back in 2007, the papers were full of the fact that the UK was about to get its first drive thru coffee shop, a Starbucks, just outside Cardiff.  The USA, of course, has had drive thrus for years.  The press inform us that there are 21,000 drive thrus in the USA, and that Drive thrus account for half of Starbucks stores in the domestic market (this was in 2007, so I guess things may have changed since then).

Once the Cardiff drive thru opened, business was brisk, with people travelling for miles to sample coffee on the hoof, so it's clear that this is a tried and tested business model that can reap good profits. 

One of the benefits of opening a drive thru coffee shop is that the overhead running costs are lower than those of a high street coffee shop. Whether you choose a static coffee kiosk, or a mobile one there are start up costs, just as there would be with a high street cafe, but the running costs are fewer.

The main cost with a drive thru is the place itself. I'm not sure the business concept is mature enough yet for there to be drive thru premises for rental, so it's likely that buildings would have to be bought or converted. Likewise, I doubt there are many second-hand mobile coffee kiosks, but watch this space in the future as the model expands.

However, there are internet sites that actually let you download drive thru building plans for free, so it's worth doing some online research in order to make a financial saving.

Amazon even sell a drive thru unit 'off the peg.' I may be sad, but I thinks it's so cool that you can wake up one morning and think 'I'm going to open a Drive Thru,' then log on to Amazon and put an order in. Mind you, the Postie will struggle to get it through the letterbox.

With a regular high street cafe, you need tables and chairs, other furniture, substantial heating or air-conditioning (as hopefully the door is opening a lot), debit/credit card facilities, waiting staff, food prep staff, chillers, freezers, dishwashers, crockery, coffee machine, display cabinets, dry goods store, pot wash sink, hand wash sink, prep area, entertainments license (if you don't want the place to be as quiet as a morgue), waste removal contract, restroom facilities for customers, separate facilities for staff..... the list goes on.

For a drive thru you need a smallish building with two serving hatches, one for taking orders and the other for serving drinks and snacks.  You will also need: a coffee machine, dry goods store, chiller/freezer, restroom for staff, food prep area, pot wash sink, dishwasher, handwash sink, dry goods store, waste removal contract and that's pretty much the basics.

With both business models at least one person on site would need a food handling certificate.

As far as equipment goes, most coffee wholesale companies will lease and maintain coffee machines and chillers, providing you buy a certain amount of stock from them.

How to Open a Drive Thru Coffee Shop

 Customers expect a good range of coffees, teas and hot chocolates, with all the froth and trimmings, plus a decent range of cakes and maybe a few continental pastries, which may be brought in frozen and baked on site.

Their aim is to have a quick coffee and a cake on the run, so customers won't expect such an extensive menu as a high street coffee store.

Location, Location

As with a high street coffee shop, you need to choose the location for your drive thru carefully.  Finding a location with a high footfall (or tyre fall) past your hatch is vital, so the best places are at business parks, near convention centres, at motorway service stations or on A road lay-bys, or in car parks.

If you are looking at parking your mobile coffee kiosk in a car park or roadside, you will have to discuss plans with the local council first, who may well extract a small fee for the priviledge.

Rural locations are generally a no-no. However, Dartmoor has many successful coffee kiosks, such as the one permanently parked at Hound Tor, called 'The Hound of the Basket Meals'. Rural drive thrus will always be the exception rather than the rule.

The Hound of The Basket Meals Coffee Kiosk, Hound Tor, Dartmoor

There's little doubt that this is a business model with enormous financial potential; one that is well-worth considering if you want to be your own boss, but aren't too fussed about living in a pretty rural idyll.


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    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      I love this article. Yes, you would need a food handling license or certificate, but beyond that there are so many possibilities. You can buy anything on Amazon these days. Some peopl even do coffee shops on a bicycle. Here is so more information about mobile coffee shops:

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks for that coffeenista, I'll check it out now.

    • profile image

      coffeenista 7 years ago

      Great article!

      I'd like to share an article I found on the net as well regarding how to open a coffee shop.

      All the best!

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

      Thanks Mike - If I were opening a coffee shop again, I'd seriously consider a drive through. Quick sales and low, low overheads. It's a growing market I think.

    • profile image

      Mike Chronos 7 years ago

      I think drive through coffee shops are perfect. Starbucks and McDonalds are making a killing from on the go business people who just want a cappuccino to go!