Starbucks Expands Pickup-Only Locations as QSRs Adapt for Digital

Starbucks, Drive-thru, QSRs

As Starbucks rethinks its store concepts with an eye towards the restaurant industry’s digital future, the coffeehouse chain is reportedly opening its first in-airport pickup-only location.

The restaurant is opening a location in Houston Texas’s George Bush International Airport that exclusively accepts digital orders for pickup, according to QSR Magazine

Additionally, Wink News, a CBS affiliate in Southwest Florida, reported that coffeehouse giant has been approved to open its a drive-thru-only store in Fort Myers, Florida, believed to be the first such Starbucks location.

These moves come as Starbucks rethinks its store designs in light of the rise of digital ordering. The company announced its Reinvention plan a year ago, for which the company is making a significant investment in “purpose-built store concepts,” tailoring store designs to different use cases and occasions.

“The company sees tremendous opportunity to further diversify and expand formats across cafes, pick up, delivery-only and drive-thru only locations,” the restaurant stated at the time. “The diversified portfolio of stores and customer channels such as Mobile Order & Pay will enable Starbucks to further meet its customers whenever and wherever they want.”

In fact, nearly half of all consumers place restaurant orders online each month, according to PYMNTS Intelligence from the recent study “Consumer Interest in an Everyday App,” created in collaboration with PayPal, which draws on insights from a survey of more than 3,300 adults in the United States and Australia. 

The report reveals that 18% of the U.S. population exclusively purchases food from restaurants using internet-connected devices, and 26% make such purchases via both digital and non-digital channels. Among consumers who made purchases from restaurants in that period, 60% did so via digital channels.

Starbucks is not the only restaurant rethinking its store designs in light of this shift, especially given that digital orders can be more cost-effective to fulfill, requiring neither the labor of face-to-face or phone order-taking nor the real estate investment of dine-in. 

Last month, for instance, quick-service restaurant (QSR) giant Wendy’s, which has around 7,000 locations around the world, announced the opening of its first Global Next Gen restaurant, which includes a higher-capacity kitchen with an area dedicated to fulfilling digital orders, as well as dedicated mobile order pickup shelves and parking spaces for these digital customers.

Also in August, Taco Bell announced a new version of its “Go Mobile” concept, a small-format model with no indoor dining area, which also includes parking spots specifically for digital ordering customers, as well as an outdoor pickup window and in-store pickup shelves. 

In July, Chick-fil-A announced that it is opening its first drive-thru-focused location with no dine-in options in Honolulu. The concept features two drive-thru lanes — one for ordering and the other for mobile order-ahead pickup — and three walk-up windows for customers on foot. 

Restaurant customers are noticing these changes. For the “Connected Dining” series, PYMNTS research has tracked what share of consumers have seen different technologies available during their most recent restaurant purchase. The results reveal that, between spring and summer, the share of restaurants that had designated pickup areas grew significantly, rising from 34% in April to 40% in June of this year.