Espresso / Coffee Drive-Thru Location

Heavy automobile traffic for a drive-thru location is a must. Selecting the right location may be the one decision most important to the success of your coffee / espresso drive-thru business. Look for a location at which you can reasonably expect to capture at least 200 cars per day. At this rate, the typical coffee or espresso drive-thru should be able to achieve a level of sales that will produce a profit if rent and operating expenses are in line. You will want to locate on the A.M. inbound commute side of the street. You also need to consider the types of businesses that might be surrounding you. If your coffee / espresso drive-thru is located across the street from a high school, business park or hospital, and the occupants of those places can easily wander over to your walk-up window during the day or when they are on break, this is an obvious advantage. Target primarily automobile traffic when selecting your location. But being adjacent to a significant population of potential daily consumers will certainly be a plus, and you should factor it into your decision-making process.

Be sure to talk to your city or county planner and find out about:

• The feasibility of putting in a drive-thru at the location.

• What they will want in terms of curb cuts.

• Accessibility of traffic to the location you are considering.

• The length of the lane leading up to and away from the coffee / espresso drive-thru. If you need 150 feet of driveway for you approach and egress and the site does not have this, you need to rule it out immediately.

Developed Vs. Undeveloped

You will need to decide whether to locate on a lot that has already been developed, or on one that is undeveloped. Some examples of developed properties you may wish to consider are the parking lots of malls, strip malls, grocery or other large retail stores, gas station, etc. Developed properties present some valuable advantages. The surface has already been paved, utilities have already been brought onto the property, parking lot lighting has been installed, and a daily supply of potential customers already drives into the property to patronize the existing businesses.

Your second option is to develop a raw piece of land for your coffee drive-thru. You may consider this if you find an absolutely fantastic location. Usually, we find starting from scratch to be less desirable and more expensive than locating on a developed piece of property. You will more than likely need to pave the lot and put in sidewalks, curb cuts, lighting, and landscaping. Developing these features can be very expensive, costing from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your interactions with the bureaucracies will also become much more complex. Paving a lot may be affected by code requirements that require such work as extensive grading so that water will run off to the municipal storm drains. You may also need to conform to stringent landscaping and lighting requirements. All of these can add significant cost to your set up and start up.


We talked to one drive-thru manufacturer who also owns several retail coffee / espresso drive-thru businesses. He told us he likes to budget $25,000 to develop a location. If the estimate for this development approaches $50,000, he reconsiders the location and determines whether or not the investment is prudent in relation to the potential return. It is for this reason he rarely considers and undeveloped piece of property.

Get Yourself Noticed!

Visibility of your coffee / espresso drive thru from the street is essential. Optimally, you want your drive-thru to be visible from as far away as possible. Why position your drive-thru in a location where oncoming motorists can’t see you until it is too late to pull in? Because coffee is an impulse buy, you’ll want potential customers to see your drive-thru and have enough time to think, "Hey, there’s an espresso drive-thru, a mocha would sure hit the spot right now, I think I’ll get one." The sooner a potential customer sees your drive-thru, the more time he or she will have to make a decision about stopping to get a beverage.

Beyond being visible from a reasonable distance, you must also decide if the background behind your building will keep potential customers from noticing you. In other words, do the buildings, traffic, or scenery located directly behind you in the on-coming traffic’s line of vision distract drivers from seeing your coffee shop business?

We’ve seen locations that make great first impressions. But after we drove past them a few times to determine how visible a coffee drive-thru might be, we become aware of some problems. The building behind one potential location was painted so outrageously that it was questionable as to whether or not our coffee drive-thru would stand out amidst this visual noise.

Featuring graphics on the outside of your coffee drive-thru can also be helpful. Consider having an artist paint large pictures of beautiful espresso drinks, colorful smoothies, and luscious pastries on the sides of your building. These murals will attract customers and allow them to recognize what you are selling.

Be sure to check with your local bureaucracies to make sure they will not object to the colors you are considering. Some cities have ordinances that restrict the colors you may use. These cities are trying to maintain an "acceptable" standard of appearance for the community, and bright purple, fire engine red or taxicab yellow may not meet their standards!