Across the country there is an ongoing boom in freestanding drive-thru/walk-up coffee shops. These units rarely, if ever, incorporate indoor seating, though they may have some outdoor seats. Instead these shops are designed and meant for customers on the go — whether by car, foot, or bike.
One can point to Dutch Brothers out of Grants Pass, Oregon as an early leader in the drive-the only coffee shop concept. They were founded in 1992 as a push cart coffee service which has morphed into primarily drive-thru shops. However, they are hardly alone, as Scooter’s from Omaha (Bellevue), Nebraska was established in 1998 as a drive-thru only chain and Biggby’s “B Cubed” concept out of Michigan have been popping up in numerous drive-thru locations since 2018.
Aside from the convenience factor, these quick serve locations have increased in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a way to reduce the risk of exposure to customers and employees alike. They also have the benefit of lower site, development, and overhead costs due to the smaller building and site footprints.
As noted above, given the lack of indoor seating, these quick-serve units tend have quite a smaller footprint. Some units are dual drive-thru, while others are drive-thru on one side and walk/bike-up on the opposite side. A typical Dutch Bros. unit occupies 375 to 400 square feet on a 10,000-15,000 square foot site. Meanwhile, a typical freestanding Scooter’s has a footprint of 544 square foot on a 2,000-5,000 square foot site. Both Dutch Bros. and Scooter’s units are constructed on site.
In the case of Biggby’s BCubed units, the 350-400 square foot facilities are modular structures that are transported to a prepared site and then placed on the building pad. Several exterior color variations are available to select including the orange and blue shown in the photo above. As some communities may not like the bright color scheme, two-tone or single tone gray options with orange trim can also be chosen (see photo below).
From a community planning perspective, issues to consider for freestanding drive-thru coffee shops include proper zoning, onsite circulation especially for double drive-thrus and between adjacent uses, site ingress/egress, hours of operation (often 24/7), landscaping, signage, off-street parking, sufficient stacking spaces for the drive-thru(s) windows, and outdoor lighting. If outdoor seating is included, there would be additional considerations, particularly in regards to pedestrian safety.
All three of these drive-thru coffee chains (Dutch Bros., Scooter’s, and Biggby) are rapidly growing across the American landscape. As they do, other/new competitors will likely join them in establishing freestanding drive-thru shops, including nationally known brands like Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Caribou. Local review officials and community planners should preemptively prepare their applicable ordinances ahead of time to assure they are ready to fully and adequately review a such a proposal.