Driven to Espresso: Drive-through Coffee Stands in the Northwest

If you think coffee culture is cool, you have come to the right place. I have loads of information and opinions to share about espresso in the Pacific Northwest, especially the drive-through phenomenon.

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Location: Edmonds, WA, United States

Thursday, June 30, 2011

3 fatal mistakes in starting a drive-through coffee stand

There are probably lots more than 3. But here are three big mistakes that will more than likely doom a new drive-through coffee stand, or at least stack the odds against you.

1. Rushing through the business plan. No, really, you need one. You need one even if you're lucky enough to not need to borrow money. This comes down to lots of research. For example, here are two important areas (there are lots more):

Permits. Some communities actually don't allow the kind of business you want to start, so that's obviously a good first question. Don't assume that if there's already one or several in the area, that the regulations didn't change since they started. After that first order of business, check all the building codes, health permits, etc., because they get costly.

Trends. You may not have noticed, but try to determine if the local competition is doing as well as you assume they are, compared to when this dream popped in your head a few years ago. Even though specialty coffee as a broad category has experienced growth right through the recession, that doesn't necessarily mean the drive-throughs in your locale are doing just fine. Times change.

2. Hiring too many baristas and paying them too much. Sorry, but you will probably find it necessary to be your own barista, manager, accountant, and janitor for the time being. See how much business drives up to your window. On the other hand, whether it's you or someone you hired, even if they say they have experience, seriously consider barista school. Your customers will thank you -- by coming back!

3. Choosing the wrong location. You need heavy morning commute traffic, and easy in-and-out access. I think that's obvious, but I've seen plenty of drive-throughs on the wrong side of the street, on little side roads, or with impossible left turns into or out of their lot.

Finally, and I speak from personal observation here, make your stand different and unique. Hey, that's why I published Driven to Espresso! The individuality is what I think makes each of those businesses stand out and get noticed. If you don't already have the book, take a look. There ought to be some inspiration there.

Good luck!