It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans pride themselves on exporting their best-loved products and services. Now that Starbucks has established its presence on multitudinous street-corners, its next offering is that old American favorite, the drive-thru.
Starbucks said it plans to open 200 new drive-thru stores in the U.K. over the next five years to "bring new levels of comfort and environmental performance to the roadside."
Starbucks' existing nine drive-thru units in the UK have encouraged the company's UK and Ireland managing director, Kris Engskov, to claim them as proof that there is further opportunity. The Daily Telegraph points out that many commuters drive to work without passing a shop and parents enjoy the ability to buy a coffee without having to park their car and take out the children from their car seats. Mr. Engskov asserted, "This is absolutely about customers asking for this. The drive-thru meets a customer need."
The Financial Times adds that Starbucks has 2,500 drive-throughs in the U.S. and believes British customers are seeking more roadside cafes. In the U.S., that equates to about slightly more than a quarter of its store base.
Drive-through windows have been a somewhat controversial addition for Starbucks. The first one opened in the U.S. in 1994 in Southern California, partly to cater to parents with young children in the car. By 2006, when Starbucks had 1,000 drive-throughs, a comprehensive article in the Wall Street Journal pondered whether the coffee chain's upscale image — described as "painstakingly cultivated with strong coffee, soft chairs and hipster music" — would be hurt by the planned expansion of drive-thrus.
The drive-thrus were said to be necessary to reach customers in the suburbs bound to their cars and it would also help support its new breakfast sandwich business. While the article quoted one car-tethered suburbanite as saying he couldn't stop at a Starbucks without one, another said a drive-thru window "takes away from them being coffee-shoppy."
Starbucks has also taken several steps over the years to increase service speed time at its drive-thru windows and reduce car bottlenecks.
In hindsight, has rolling out drive-thrus been a positive or negative addition to Starbucks' locations?