The Magic of the Drive-Thru

Here’s how we pulled 2020 out of the fire and outperformed everyone else in the burger franchise category

Kevin Bazner

Kevin Bazner

Eight consecutive months of double-digit year-over-year sales growth would be an accomplishment in any year. But when that year was 2020, and every other burger franchise was struggling just to stay flat? We can pat ourselves and our franchisees on the back for this one.

The reality is, though, strong sales performance is not new. A&W Restaurants have nine straight years on the books with positive sales growth, with our base brand AUVs up over 40% on average. Our performance during the pandemic is no fluke; it’s the result of a well-informed strategy and a lot of hard work. And the real “secret sauce” in our winning formula is no secret at all: It’s the drive-thru.

“It’s no secret these days that drive-thru is king, right? No question about it. And that’s where we’ve focused the majority of our efforts,” says CEO Kevin Bazner.

Our drive-thru sales strategy

Although A&W pivoted quickly last March and April to provide safe pick-up and delivery, our sales increases were far and away the biggest in those restaurants — the majority of our 550+ stateside locations — with drive-thrus. So that’s where we threw our focus.

It became all about speed of order. We worked with our operators on getting a second makeshift drive-thru ordering point. Some people put extra staff outside with tablets to quickly log in orders. “We were pulling every car aside, pulling them ahead, bringing their food out to just keep the cars moving,” says Bazner.

Customers, craving the better-quality burgers and comfort food they knew they could count on from A&W, showed their appreciation.

Sales jumped up 15% percent in May compared to the same month in 2019, and they went up 16% percent in June. The sales juggernaut continued month after month, all the way through December. Pizza was an early favorite pandemic-meal go-to, but when people tired of it, they returned to the brands they knew and loved — like A&W.

We did everything we could to support our franchisees along the way. In those early difficult months, we deferred royalty payments and refunded most of their marketing fees. A&W already had the infrastructure in place to amp up local store marketing to let consumers know we were open — safely — for business. 

And when we saw the huge uptick in drive-thru traffic, we knew we were onto something.

How will this affect 2021 sales?

The drive-thru is having a moment. Some A&W locations, catching on early, have already added a second menu-board and ordering point in their drive-thrus to handle increased traffic. And to encourage others, we are finalizing a program to allow all of our restaurants to make investments in — and even direct some local store marketing funds toward — the consumer drive-thru experience.  

That may include re-striping parking lots and updating signage and menu boards outside the restaurant to improve the customer experience as seen from the drive-thru. “It’s basically doing a very cost-effective remodel on the drive-thru without touching the inside of the restaurant,” Bazner says.

No one can predict what 2021 might have in store, but so far, sales are performing well. We anticipate the drive-thru trend will continue, certainly through the first two quarters of the year. There may be some recalibrating in the second half of 2021, depending on where the world is. 

A&W’s leadership will be here, working with operators to keep costs down and sales up, just like we’ve done since we purchased the brand in 2011. We’ll keep following the COVID safety protocols for our guests and our team members and we’ll keep leading the burger franchise pack. For now, all our focus is on that drive-thru experience, coupled with maintaining our same great delicious All-American comfort food.

“We still believe it’s the number one thing we can do to satisfy the increased consumer demand for our brand today,” Bazner says.

Learn more

Pick a better burger franchise. A&W has franchise opportunities nationwide. Learn more about our franchise offering by filling out the form on this page. You can also continue to explore our research pages to learn more about the A&W franchise brand.

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Click here to watch the interview.

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We’re pretty darn happy at A&W these days, despite all the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. It took a huge effort by our franchisees, however, our May sales topped last year’s by a whole lot.

While the future of many restaurant brands is in question, it’s very rewarding to see our franchise partners succeed. We’re equally pleased to be hearing from so many prospective franchisees.

To help them get started, we’re reducing royalties and initial fees. You can read more about both our sales and incentives here.