Recent Savills research suggests demand for drive-thru food and beverage (F&B) has increased 25% since the pandemic began; and the number of enquiries we are receiving from new operators to the market, as well as more established F&B outlets looking to make drive-thru a key component of their portfolios, suggests the sector will remain strong beyond the current health crisis.

Dave Frost, Urban Edge

Dave Frost

However, owners and operators need to think quickly and innovatively to gain a foothold in the market, perhaps looking to combine multiple drive to and through offerings, such as drive-in entertainment with drive-thru food and other click & collect or pick-up services.

As the government pursues its ambition to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, a number of more foresighted landlords are also exploring opportunities between rapid electric car charging facilities in conjunction with drive-thru and F&B retail.

Sold on the idea that drive-thrus are fairly easy and fast to build, landlords with redundant space or large, empty car parks are unsurprisingly looking at drive-thru to enhance the attractiveness of their assets. However, the road to drive-thru success is not always that straightforward.

For starters, many standalone restaurant and retail units in the UK were not conceived with the drive-thru in mind – they are often hard up in the corner of sites, resulting in minimal room to site a drive-thru lane. Equally, underused, satellite areas of car parks can often be some distance away from utilities infrastructure, and the added costs of introducing power and water to a restaurant unit can skewer the economic viability.

That said, it is amazing what is being considered and what we have been able to achieve for clients, whether relocating site entrances, moving half the restaurant around internally or incorporating a drive-thru at the end of a small terrace of units. On a few tightly constrained sites, we have even looked to incorporate a drive-thru to a multistorey mixed-use development.

Whatever the future may hold, owners and developers need to make the right decisions now to maximise the value of their assets and secure a long-term future for their sites.

Dave Frost is senior associate director of Urban Edge Architecture