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In a bid to drive growth, Starbucks is taking a page from McDonald’s with a fresh push to include drive-through windows at “more than half of the 700 company-owned stores it is slated to open in 2006 in Seattle, Chicago and other U.S. markets,” reports Steven Gray in The Wall Street Journal. The thinking here is obvious: “The average annual volume at Starbucks stores with a drive-through window is about $1.3 million, or about 30 percent higher than stores without.” Yeah, but, it “takes away from them being coffee-shoppy” complains Laura Kanter, who worries that Starbucks has “cheapened the brand.” Not so Dan Farchner, however: “I wouldn’t have stopped at Starbucks if it wasn’t a drive-through,” he says.

Over at Dunkin’ Donuts, meanwhile, John Dawson, chief development officer, professes delight: “We are flattered that Starbucks is beginning to follow in our footsteps,” he says. In fact, the drive-throughs aren’t anything new for Starbucks, which “began opening drive-through outlets in 1994 in Southern California partly to cater to parents with young children and maybe a dog in the car.” Then, as now, it’s all about convenience, and Jim Alling, president of Starbucks U.S. Company research says customers see drive-thru as a good thing: “They feel it enhances the Starbucks image … Our customers say this is something they want.” It also helps Starbucks sell is “hot breakfast sandwiches in some markets. Morning commuters and others buying breakfast on the run contribute as much as a quarter of some fast-food chains’ sales.”

The windows may not be so helpful in terms of selling “whole-bean coffees, CDs and other merchandise that together account for a growing slice of sales” at Starbucks, though. And it’s questionable whether the drive-through actually saves anybody any time. Starbucks says the wait is about three minutes either way, although some suggest the window can be much slower. “In the store, it’s an issue of queuing — someone can have a complex order and step aside while it’s being made,” says John Glass, a restaurant industry analyst. That’s not a possibility for the car-bound. So, how many Starbucks employees does it take work a drive-through? The answer is four: "One to take orders, one to operate the cash register, one to work the espresso machine and a ‘floater’ to fill in among the other three roles (no punchline here, sorry :-). ~ Tim Manners, editor