England has seen its very first Chinese drive-thru open, in Warrington, and it is already causing quite a stir, with people travelling from Wales to visit the first of its kind. The creators of Wiyo, which stands for ‘what is your order’, hope to become the ‘McDonalds’ of Asian cuisine and have been developing the concept since 2018.

With drive-thrus seemingly opening new branches every day and becoming synonymous with a long car journey, it’s hard to imagine that the first drive-thru in England only opened in the 1980s. America pioneered the drive-thru in 1930, which have since spread widely.

In the UK, drive-thrus are almost exclusively associated with fast food, but the inaugural was an American bank, which remains popular amongst other routine businesses such as pharmacies.

In 1986, McDonald’s became the first food operator to open a drive-thru in the UK and now there are over 2,000 across the country. With over 500 million visits a year, the drive-thru craze is only growing in the UK. One of the many effects of the pandemic was the boom in popularity of drive-thrus as people sought fast-food without putting themselves at risk of catching Covid-19. Between March 2020 to 2021, almost one eighth of fast-food sales were made through drive-thrus, a huge 50% increase from pre-pandemic figures.

On one hand, drive-thrus offer many benefits for consumers such as convenience, speed and accessibility for those who are less mobile or disabled, while on the other, there are a plethora of drawbacks. The popularity of drive-thrus can be linked to increased carbon emissions and elevated health risks caused by reduced physical activity and easier access to fast food, which often contains higher amounts of fat, salt and sugar.

For businesses, the drive-thru craze can offer many advantages including an increased capacity and sales volume, and with less staff needed, since table clearing or cutlery washing are no longer required, they can benefit from a lower expenditure, increasing profits across the board. With self-service ordering expected to take off soon in the drive-thru sector, companies will be able to cut costs even more, although at the expense of the workforce

Taking advantage of the profitable opportunity, many high-street brands ranging from Costa and Starbucks to Greggs and Krispy Kreme are choosing to open drive-thrus to expand their reach. In recent years, this has been extremely pertinent to many companies’ business plans with the ‘death of the high street’ and decreased footfall. In fact, there has been a 41% increase in the number of drive-thrus between 2015 and 2020.

Wiyo choosing to jump on the bandwagon of the drive-thru trend is entirely logical, in order for them to compete in the same arena as other food operators. Offering Chinese food in that format is likely to be a profitable unique selling point, partially thanks to the popularity of the cuisine.

What’s the future of the drive-thru market as more and more businesses adopt the model? While many people chose to stop at drive-thrus during their journeys, will the drive-thru craze prove to just be a stop on the way to full automation of the hospitality industry? Over one million people were employed in the restaurant and mobile food service industry in the UK in 2019, a number which may decrease in line with the increase of drive-thrus and technology implementation.

What do you think the future holds for the drive-thru craze? Will more cuisines join the trend? Let us know on social media.

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