Let’s Build Your Next Drive-Thru, The Right Way!

Whether you are thinking of renovating an existing building or constructing a new one, the topic of drive-thrus often come up with restaurant owners looking for ways to change up their business model. The drive-thru has been a part of American life since the 40’s, but could having one help you make it through the current economic environment with changing customer behavior and government restrictions? In 1948, the first restaurant drive-thru was created in Baldwin Park, California. This was a 100 SF burger shack, which grew to one of the most well-known chains called In-N-Out Burger. It was not until 22 years after In-N-Out’s success that McDonald’s decided to open their first drive-thru. Additionally, drive-thru restaurants have proven to increase their overall profitability by maximizing their order volume ever since their inception.

Are you planning to add a drive thru to your restaurant? If so, contact us and we’ll get started on your project!

As you may know, for many years the SBA, or Small Business Administration, has routinely underwritten the expansion of fast-food giants and chain restaurants by supplying them with cheap seed funding. In 2014, almost 50 percent of first-time franchises obtained financing through SBA loans.  In our recent conversations with SBA lenders, many are now requiring a drive-thru with new construction to finance the project. For restaurants to make it in the current environment, you will need a robust take-out strategy and drive-thrus can play an important role in these strategies. Let’s explore some of the best practices when looking into creating a drive-thru.

SCGWest’s Top 4 Best Practices for Building a Drive Thru

1. Feasibility Study

If you are planning on adding a drive-thru to an existing location or planning a new build-to-suit drive thru, you will need to engage a professional to conduct what is called a feasibility study. This study should showcase traffic patterns and the impact that your new drive-thru may have on the surrounding traffic count and flow. Most U.S. cities are reluctant to approve a drive-thru without a study on how the traffic flow and traffic count could potentially be impacted. Permitting also plays a huge part of the process of building your next drive-thru as many cities require additional fire department input and approval for a drive-thru. This is due to the additional windows, traffic flow and having cars idling so close to the building. There are even certain areas with laws requiring specific signage and certain paint colors for curbs.

2. Organized Layout

Once initially approved to move forward with your new drive-thru, you need to plan out the queue configuration. Just like you want an organized kitchen in a restaurant, you will also want an organized drive-thru layout. Making sure cars have enough space to make turns along with properly marking the lanes so that the area where they merge flows smoothly for the customers. Since drive-thrus account for up to 70 percent of the average quick-serve restaurant’s sales, getting the overall layout and design is crucial.

According to a recently published study by researchers at the Kellogg School of Management, Columbia Graduate School of Business, every 7 seconds a chain shaves off drive-thru wait time equals a 1 percent increase in sales. It is crucial to make sure you install the window in a spot that avoids sun glare during the day. This will essentially help employees provide better customer service at the window and maintain proper visibility from a safety perspective. As a result, successful brands and franchisees aim to make the customer experience as stress-free and easy to navigate as possible.


It is crucial to make sure you install the window in a spot that avoids sun glare during the day.

3. Choosing the Proper Equipment 

Once you have decided to install or implement a drive-thru window, make sure you have selected all the correct equipment you will need.

Equipment Needs:

  • The Takeout Window – Installing an extra-wide window at the drive-thru enables efficiency as two employees can both lean out at once resulting in one taking payment while the other delivers the customer their order.
  • Squak Box – There is nothing worse when placing your order than hearing a blown-out speaker and crackling sound while placing your order, only to find out your order is incorrect. Choosing a quality speaker system, or better yet a digital menu display with a built-in speaker for easier installation and maintenance.
  • Menu Displays – Digital Menu boards are becoming more commonplace for multiple reasons as you can imagine:
    • 1. Visibility and Clarity of the menu itself
    • 2. The ability to update menu items and pricing updates much easier.
  • Confirmation Boards – It is best to consider investing in order confirmation boards, this allows customers to receive visual assurance that you completely understand their order and makes it easier for them to add anything to it if they wish.
  • Lighting – It is imperative to choose strategically placed bright lighting along the drive thru path and parking lot in general as to eliminate dark areas for customer’s safety, security and piece of mind.
  • Security Cameras – Cameras placed strategically throughout the premises can allow employees to visually see who they are taking an order from and thus adding some piece of mind for anyone behind the takeout window.


From menu boards and signage to visual and audio communications, customers expect the drive-thru experience to be quick while being easy to navigate, and consistent across all of your locations.

4. Consider Having Employees Outside to Take Orders

Positioning employees outside in the drive-thru is a practice that more and more drive-thru restaurants are benefiting from. With today’s technology, you can provide employees tablets to take the orders outside. For instance, this popular technique is something that Chick-Fil-A uses daily and a practice that makes them so successful. They call this system “face-to-face ordering,” which is why the majority of Chick-Fil-A restaurants serve well over 100 cars in the drive-thru line during peak hours. Lastly, if mobile order processing and payments can be adopted, it will also significantly help reduce the wait times in the drive-thru lanes. It is also best to consider a separate drive-thru line and kiosk for mobile order pick up.


Drive-thru restaurants are dominating the restaurant industry. Build to suit developments are considered the most sought after and universally beneficial project delivery method in the commercial real estate industry. This is where SCGWest comes in, we specialize in ground up development and build to suits for restaurants where there are a variety of advantages using a developer for your build to suit. This structure reduces the tenant’s upfront out of pocket opening costs, but still allows the tenant significant input into the design and construction. This collaborative input ultimately helps with reducing long-term costs along with maximizing space and efficiency. As a full-service Build-to-Suit developer, our site selection, design, and construction teams will use their collective knowledge, experience, and proven processes to ensure the ultimate success of your next development. If you are looking to design and construct a new drive thru, Contact Us today and we can help you get started right away!

Construction Project Management
We're Proud to Announce That We're

No. 307

on the Annual Inc. 5000 List!

Request a Call

Hero Contact