Jun 20, 2022
12:19 pm

Do I Need a One or Two-Lane Drive-Thru for My Quick Service Restaurant?

South of the border, we’ve seen some significant changes to the drive-thru concept. Much of this has been in response to increased demand for pickup vs dine-in, as well as third-party delivery.

In Minnesota, Taco Bell is introducing four-lane drive-thrus, with 3 dedicated lanes for delivery drivers and app-based order pickup.

In Canada, we’re still in the early days of adopting dual-lane drive-thrus. Currently, McDonald’s and Tim Hortons are the two chains that have been consistently bringing this model to market.

Yet as consumer preferences change and innovations become more feasible, QSRs will adapt. This will lead both independent and national retailers to consider whether they need a one or two-lane drive-thru to compete.

Increasing drive-thru capacity will require the need for larger property parcels and greater acceptance and understanding among municipal planners.

Vehicle stacking is the major sticking point for drive-thru permitting

For municipal development authorities, one of the critical factors they look at when approving a site design for a drive-thru is vehicle queuing and stacking. They must be convinced your design is safe and will not contribute to accidents. Equally important, they will want to ensure any vehicular lineups will not spill out onto the main road and impede traffic.

Municipalities are learning too

In the early days of the single-lane drive-thru, many QSRs faced pushback, and the requirement for drive-thrus became stricter in many Canadian municipalities as lines grew. In some cases, problems would arise after the design was approved. It was a learning process for everyone involved.

That same uncertainty exists with the arrival of dual-lane drive-thrus. Municipalities are understandably concerned these unfamiliar designs don’t cause problems and lead to complaints. They too are learning and adapting their processes to these new designs.

Key factors in determining vehicle stacking

When engineering firms develop a site design plan, they must ensure it meets the land use requirement, which includes vehicle queuing and stacking. The exact requirements will vary by municipality. Approvals are granted at the discretion of the development department.

Stacking is determined by the following:

  • Site size and configuration
  • The number of vehicles
  • The point where queuing begins
  • Inbound/outbound traffic
  • Site entrances and exits

Interestingly, some jurisdictions will consider the start of the queuing lane to be in different spots. In most cases, it begins at the menu board sign. However, in some municipalities, the count may begin from another location, such as the payment or pickup window.

Choosing the Right Property for a One or Two-Lane Drive-Thru

Traditional single-lane drive-thrus tend to be suited to properties that are long and narrow and can accommodate a longer stacking of vehicles. Conversely, a dual-lane drive-thru will require a wider space to account for the additional lane.

Dual Lane May Reduce Stacking Pressure

In some instances, adding a second drive-thru lane could reduce stacking, by splitting one long lineup of vehicles into two shorter lines.

The two-lane drive-thru: Not just for national brands

It’s not just national chains that can benefit from a non-traditional drive-thru. Calgary-based Peter’s Drive-In has set itself apart by giving customers a paddy and a half on their single burgers – and for its unique two-lane drive-thru. (In fact, they beat this trend by decades!).

It’s proof that if you have the right product and the right location, you may be able to create enough demand to justify a unique business model.

Do you have the operational processes in place?

It’s not enough to simply build a second drive-thru lane. To be successful, your restaurant will need to have the appropriate operational systems in place. McDonald’s has this down to a science. As with all aspects of fast food delivery speed, coordination, and order accuracy are key.

Get professional support to make your vision a reality

Engineering and design firms that regularly work with quick service restaurants and other retail businesses will use advanced traffic modeling software to plan stacking, queuing, parking, and traffic flow (ingress and egress). In instances where you are proposing something new (like a dual-lane drive-thru), your design firm may recommend contracting the specialized services of a traffic engineer to provide added validation to your permit approval.

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