A&W franchise sales are anticipated to get their biggest boost this year from the drive-thru, so we’re helping franchisees get ready

Cars line up around an A&W drive through. A sign on the exterior wall reads A&W Sweets & Treats.

One of the most unexpected wins from 2020 was discovering how important our drive-thru was. At a time when consumers became reticent about dining in or even walking inside restaurants to pick up orders, food places that already had drive-thrus — like most of our 550+ U.S. locations — were in a good position.

A&W doubled down on executing speed-of-order to accommodate the additional drive-thru traffic. As a result, we saw double-digit, year-over-year sales beginning in May and continuing every month through December.

“We saw sales start to mount by mid-April as people were growing tired of being cooped up and cooking at home,” says CEO Kevin Bazner. “We realized it was all coming through the drive-thru. Very little of it at that time was even coming from carry-out. So we started focusing on our drive-thru service right then and there, and we got the message out to consumers through local store marketing.”

Even as more people get vaccinated and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, some consumer behaviors may continue. We’re anticipating that will be the case for the increased popularity of the A&W drive-thru, so we’ll be focusing on that part of our business in 2021.

Drive-thrus get a glow-up

Instead of spending capital on a full remodel for the entire restaurant, some franchisees are choosing to spruce up the outside of the building instead. With so much attention on drive-thru ordering, A&W is concentrating on making sure the high-traffic space looks even more appealing.

A new program allows franchisees to divert some of their local store marketing funds toward improving the look and functionality of their outdoor space. Franchisees are updating menu boards, adding a second point-of-order to the drive-thru, adding landscaping and re-striping and sealing parking lots. Everything is being viewed through the lens of the consumer experience, from the all-important speed-of-order to pulling up to a speaker with an unobstructed view of the menu board and clear audio.

It’s especially important because our drive-thru service drew new customers last year. “Everything’s going through one point at the drive-thru,” Bazner says. “That’s where the manager is focused. That’s where the owner is focused. And although we don’t have all the data yet, anecdotally, they’re saying we’re seeing a lot of new customers.”

A&W franchise had a strong head-start on the increased interest in drive-thrus industry-wide, and that’s why we’re continuing our full-court press. “Drive-thrus became our core business,” says Bazner. “We know that space, we can layer on other off-premise delivery services and online ordering on top of that.

“I look at that as white space that we can continue to build on, no matter what happens next.”

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