• 01.29.13

Starbucks Opens More Drive Throughs. Some Are Made of Shipping Containers.

30% of Starbucks have drive-throughs, but they make 45% of the cash.

We used to hear a lot from CEO Howard Schultz about Starbucks as the “third place” replete with comfy chairs, smiling coffee mavens, and carefully-curated tunes–the perfect place for a book group, a break with the kids, or for the growing freelance nation. For many, Starbucks was an office away from the office, complete with free wifi.


Well, in a tough economy, that cozy vision may be more aspirational than realistic. After looking at the numbers, it appears that what coffee customers want most is their five-shot in a to-go cup. 80% of Starbucks customers walk out of the store with their drink. Starbucks stores with drive-up windows account for 30% of the U.S. total, yet produce 45% of U.S. retail profits. Schultz announced last week that 60 percent of the next 1500(!) US locations will have drive-throughs; the java-pushing CEO called drive-throughs “a fast-growing, highly profitable format for Starbucks.”

As originally reported here last fall, some of the new drive-throughs, like a new one just announced in Chicago, will be LEED-certified and built of reclaimed shipping containers.

Some argue that the very idea of a sustainable drive-through is a contradiction in terms: sustainable buildings should form parts of walkable landscapes. But for the caffeine-deprived masses, convenience is of the essence. The other big revenue growth areas for Starbucks these days? Single-serve “Verisimo” pods and “Via” instant crystals, for a Starbucks-at-home experience.

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.