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Is The Drive-Thru Really In Trouble?

As the year winds down, it’s a relevant time to start to analyze the trends that will shape franchising for years to come. Especially as we stand on the verge of the next decade, one wonders exactly how the meta-factors that are changing the world-at-large will trickle down to effect the neighborhood franchise.


Take climate change. Over in Copenhagen, delegates from the around the world are meeting to (hopefully) iron out an agreement that will seek to control international carbon dioxide emissions for the next generation. Climate change is a contentious subject, and while it’s something I notice every now and again, I can’t say it has a real impact on my life. But that could soon be changing.


As a regular reader of the web magazine Slate, I was fascinated to read an article on the history of the fast food drive-thru and its potentially troubled future. To summarize from the article, the popularity of the drive-thru is directly linked the growth and popularity of US car culture, marrying as it does "mobility" and "consumption". But with talk of oncoming carbon taxes and the specter of Peak Oil, what will a world fewer cars mean for QSRs with drive-thru facilities?


The answer could be quite damaging for QSRs. The Slate article states that 65% of McDonald’s sales come from drive-thru’s. The success of American fast food restaurants is built upon their ability to provide a top product in a short enough time to fulfill a consumer’s expectation for convenience. It remains to be seen if Americans will line up in a store itself with the same gusto.


As for the future, one would think that the day of the ‘walk-through’ or ‘cycle-through’ restaurant is not too far off, but the Slate article also profiles many of the teething problems with this trend. So while it’s a bit early to write the obituary of the drive-thru, those food franchises that can deliver a convenient model for the on-coming green age may be mostly likely to prosper.

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