How To Start a Coffee Drive-thru Stand
One appealing option to start your coffee business is by opening up a drive-thru coffee stand. Today, drive-thru strands are all over the place – because of the tremendous need in communities big and small for good espresso “on the go.”
The drive-thru coffee stand mixes our love for coffee, cars, and convenience – which is appealing to many would-be coffee drinkers. If you find the right location and plan out your coffee stand right, we believe that you can certainly build a profitable coffee business in just a short while.
Starting a coffee drive-thru stand has also a number of benefits when comparing the operation to a full-fledged café, bistro, or coffee shop business. The obvious is that the lower startups costs and labor costs. With that said, you should expect to spend a significant amount of money establishing your coffee business, so planning is essential.
The following are the first basic steps you should consider before starting your coffee drive-thru stand that we recommend. The list of steps isn't exhaustive because each coffee drive-thru stand is different and each of you may be starting from a different vantage point. Nevertheless, we believe that by taking the following steps, you can set up your coffee stand successfully.
Develop Your Coffee Stand Menu
Figure Out Your Menu – Your menu is something that can be easily overlooked, which is unfortunate because it really should be among the first steps in your planning.
Ask yourself: what am I planning on serving at my coffee stand to my customers? Or more importantly, what do my customers want?
With a scarcity of space, you are certainly limited with your product offerings, but this doesn’t mean that you can only serve an assortment of juices, teas, and light snacks. You'd be surprised what you can offer within a small small space.
If you are still unsure, perhaps you can visit nearby coffee stands (if they exist) and see what they are serving. Go ahead an order something from them. Determine the quality. Ask who their vendors are. Take notes because it will make it easier to recall later. Additionally, consider who your customer will be. For example, are your customers going to be part of the early morning rush hour? Are they primarily interested in grabbing a coffee and snack as they head back on the highway for a long drive? Who your customers are – and where they are in their day – will often determine just what products they might be interested in.
Your Coffee Stand Location
Your Location – Finding the right location is critical to starting your drive thru coffee business. Consider checking with a couple local counties and their policies on drive thru coffee businesses to determine what general area you would like to open your coffee stand in. You might be surprised that municipalities and counties right next to each other might have vastly different regulations, taxes, labor laws, and health & building codes.
A drive-thru coffee stand can be challenging enough to launch successfully without the oversight of local agencies. Adding the dimension a bureaucratic county agencies might not be appealing. Once you've decided on a couple of areas, consider any employment rules and laws, such as minimum wage laws, health codes, and taxes. You will want to know any significant deviations from other local areas to write up your coffee shop business plan.
Once you settle on a general area, you will be busy trying to determine the exact location within that area. While no location is perfect, you can determine whether or not it has the right elements. For example:
- Is it convenient to access? Is it easy to see from the main highway?
- Can people anticipate stopping to buy a cup of coffee?
- Does it have a nearby restroom for your employees?
- Are their many other competitors around?
Your Coffee Stand Market
Study Your Target Market – What does your customer base look like? Will your customers be leaving town to head to work, or will they becoming into town? What products will your customers want with their coffee? Are they students? Will they have the discretionary income to buy coffee from you? Having an understanding of who your customers will be before finalizing your location will be vital. You can access housing data and other important factors that can help you settle on a specific location.
1-2-3 “Counting” Your Would-Be Coffee Stand Customers
Count your Anticipated Customers – Theoretically, you should figure out how many customer to anticipate for a given time period during the work week.
The way you calculate your actual numbers from a non-existing site or a potential location, rests with each individual case and area. You can make a determination by counting how many cars pass your intended spot. Additionally, you will want to see if the actual speed that the cars are traveling is conducive to stopping. Finally, you may also want to add foot traffic as well, but I would determine and count that separately. It is recommended that you count customers a few times within a given period of time to help determine the average.
Now, if you are buying a coffee stand that is already in business, counting customers will obviously be a little easier. We offer a more detailed article on counting customers for your coffee stand here.
Your “Physical” Coffee Stand
Your Actual Physical Drive-Thru Coffee Stand – While probably not your biggest cost, your drive-thru coffee stand may not come as cheap as you think. Starting early to figure out where you will get your stand will depend on whether you want a brand new coffee stand, a used coffee stand, or if you want to build your own coffee stand. You will want to get the specs on your coffee stand from your city or county building department. Our recommendation is to check with your building department before you buy the coffee stand or before you build your coffee stand.
Additionally, while your coffee stand should be prepped for plumbing, electrical outlets, and proper storage you can have a certain amount of freedom to create the stand you want (as long as it falls within code).
Your Water, Plumbing, & Electrical Capacity
The Basics – To deliver your coffee to your customers, you will need the appropriate capacity for water, plumbing, and electrical. Getting clean water to your stand may be difficult in some cases and easier than others. Some coffee stands will need to be plumbed with the location’s actual plumbing – or it will need to maintain “self-contained” water facilities. You’re stand will also need to be plumbed for having enough sinks, depending on your menu – all of which require some drainage and waste tank or sewer access.
Your water can come from self-contained units that you can manually fill, but this requires extreme vigilance in knowing your water levels as you do not want to ruin your expensive espresso machine. Having your stand wired for electrical capacity to run the espresso machine, coffee grinders, refrigerators, and other devices. Being “hooked” up to a main power supply will obviously be a lot easier, but often times your stand may have to run on a generator. Again, these elements should be considered when choosing your location.
Your Employee Restrooms
Your Employee Restroom – Where will you or your employee use the restroom? You certainly don’t want your employee to leave and go to the nearby Starbucks every time he or she needs to the use the restroom. But then again, maybe it will be the only option. Keep in mind that many small stands actually have to close down briefly for your employees or baristas to use the restroom or run out and get supplies from the commissary. Either way, it's an important element to consider while making the selection for your
Your Coffee Stand Commissary
Your Commissary – Having a commissary is essential. A commissary is an actual physical nearby location that you will house your cleaning supplies, mop closet, and will need to be retrofitted with hot water. Nearly every municipality or county health department will require a commissary for your coffee stand. While there may be some small variations in regulations, a commissary will need to provide your coffee business with proper storage facilities, a place to clean your equipment, and wash your utensils.
Some existing coffee stand businesses may come with a commissary either attached or nearby. However, you may have to negotiate with the property owner or a nearby property owner separately from your lease. Either way, you cannot do business without a commissary so it will often be a deal-breaker for the property you choose.
Your Coffee Stand Equipment
Your Coffee Equipment – Whatever you do, don’t by your coffee equipment on Craigslist and eBay without first testing it and seeing it action. Coffee equipment can be expensive and cutting corners will only leave you with less money in your pocket in the long run. The coffee equipment you need really depends on your menu and to some extend your space capacity. For more information on your coffee equipment check out our coffee business starter package.
Your Coffee Stand Lease and Rent
Your Lease – if you figured out a location, check to see if you will be able to get your permits and then workout the details with your lease. You don’t want to sign a lease only to realize that your physically located in a zone that you can’t do business in. As you may know, your property lease can either make or break your business.
A favorable lease can help you achieve your business goals including achieving profitability. While it is in the best interest of the property owner or the property manager to have you achieve success, some often don't approach their leases in that way. Our recommendation is that you get help with your lease signing or at least listen to our audio interview with a leasing expert. While you may be potentially be negotiating for a “perfect” location, think twice before signing the lease. An unfavorable lease can be detrimental to your business, even if it's in the perfect spot.
Further Reading on How to Start a Coffee Stand Business:
There are plenty of reasons why you should do basic research before starting your coffee business. Whether you want a drive-thru coffee stand or a full café, increasing your business knowledge base will be essential. We offer an affordable Coffee Business Starter Guide to help you get the answers you need to start your business planning today.