QSR Development Part 2: Developing a Drive-Thru

Deborah K. Vick

As we explored previously, there are a wide variety of differences in the development requirements of a quick service restaurant, or QSR. However, the largest and arguably most noteworthy comes into play when a drive-thru lane is needed for a restaurant user. These drive-thru lanes, developed to provide the ultimate convenience and speed of service for customers, can prove anything but convenient for restaurant owners during development and construction without the proper research and planning.

Stacking & Queuing Requirements

One aspect that needs to be considered during the development of a drive-thru QSR, is the local vehicle stacking requirements. These are a measurement of the overall capacity of a drive-thru lane, and each city and municipality will have different requirements, but they are essentially measured as the number of vehicle lengths required to accommodate a drive-thru lane safely and efficiently. 


In some locations, this will be a simple requirement along the lines of a lane equivalent to 6 to 8 average vehicle lengths, while in other locations it will be much more specific in what is required, such as 4 vehicle lengths before the menu board, and 3 additional vehicle lengths to sit between the menu board and pickup window, as examples. Each city and municipality will have very different requirements for the construction of these drive-thru lanes, so you will need to be aware of the requirements relevant to your location by discussing them with a city planner. 


As you can see in the following chart, the definitions of stacking spaces, and the number of spaces required will vary greatly depending on the city and state that you are developing in: 



Measurement of 1 Space

Stacking Requirements

Durango, CO

8 feet wide by 20 feet long

If one service window is provided (for both payments and pick up):

  • Six stacking spaces to the menu board; and
  • Five stacking spaces between the menu board and the service window.

If two service windows are provided (one for payments and one for pick-up):

  • Four stacking spaces to each menu board;
  • Four stacking spaces between the menu board and the first window (including the position at the first window); and
  • Two spaces between the first window and the second window (including the position at the second window).

Tyler, TX

9 feet wide by 20 feet long

Inbound Vehicles:

  • 2 spaces per service position; and

Outbound Vehicles:

  • Six stacking spaces to the menu board; and

Des Plaines, IL

8.5 feet wide and 18 feet long

Every drive-thru facility shall provide six (6) stacking spaces per facility, plus one stacking space per waiting area provided. The stacking spaces shall be designed so to not interfere with the ingress and egress of the off-street parking provided on the site. 

Elk Grove, CA

10-foot interior radius at curves and 12-foot width

Drive-up windows shall provide at least one hundred eighty (180) feet of stacking space for each facility, as measured from the service window or unit to the entry point into the drive-up lane. Each drive-thru entrance/exit shall be at least fifty (50) feet from an intersection of public rights of way. 

The other important consideration with stacking requirements is that, for the most part, this typically is only measuring the capacity of the lane itself. It does not account for the ingress or egress of vehicles for the lane, or for your business at large. Making sure that customers will have adequate access to the drive-thru lane as well as your business as a whole, and the space necessary to also easily leave is another aspect that you will need to consider during planning. 


Planning for Drive-Thrus

In addition to the capacity of the drive-thru lane itself, there are other factors that will need to be considered to include one of these lanes in a QSR. The first, and likely most obvious part of planning, will be to consider whether or not you will truly have space to include a drive-thru lane on the site you have. You will need to coordinate with the local zoning requirements, making sure that the size will still be within these set requirements and accounts for any required widths, escape lanes, or fire access requirements. You also want to verify that the inclusion of a drive-thru lane will not conflict with the visibility and setback requirements of the building or public road it may sit next to. 


The other matter is that to consider is how the inclusion of this lane will affect your business, neighboring businesses or residential users, and local traffic patterns. Most cities will require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for drive-thru uses when in certain proximity to residential neighbors to the site. A CUP is a public process where a city will notify the neighboring public users for comments and suggestions as part of its review and approval of your drive-thru site. 


Further, most jurisdictions will require a Traffic Impact Study (TIS), a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), or even a Drive-Thru Lane Queuing Study, which will examine peak-hour traffic at the proposed facility and drive-thru. The city traffic engineer will ensure that customers will queue safely from the public road and not back up into the street along with consideration for minimal noise attenuation from the order menu to the neighboring uses. Many jurisdictions also try to limit late night hours of operation of a drive-thru so they also won’t affect the neighboring community after hours when residents are usually sleeping. 


Planning commissions and city councils that approve a CUP will ask a variety of questions at these CUP hearings of the drive-thru user. Will the addition of a drive-thru lane negatively affect the existing parking and/or pedestrian use? Will the drive-thru lane affect the local traffic pattern? Without proper consideration of these elements, you will likely not be approved for a CUP that would be needed before construction permits could be issued. 


Potentially even worse, if you are initially approved with a CUP, and then it is found to not be enough space with queuing to accommodate your customers you could have big issues with the city. Recently in Phoenix, AZ a Dutch Bros closed and relocated because of a violation in this matter where the City of Phoenix revoked their CUP due to increased traffic congestion and potential safety issue occurring where queuing during the morning rush hour backed up into the public street causing significant traffic issues.


Always Do Your Due-Diligence

To be absolutely sure that you won’t have any issues in these matters, you will want to be extremely thorough on the front end. This will mean hiring the right people to carry out site investigations, which will be needed to determine the feasibility of a drive-thru lane. Hiring local, and experienced traffic engineers and civil engineers will provide you with the critical support that you will need to be able to appropriately determine if the site that you have selected is equipped to handle a QSR user.


These professionals will also be able to help make sure that you meet the other local jurisdictional guidelines for your QSR. These guidelines can range and differ greatly between different Cities and States and could dictate other necessities, such as: 

  • The overall signage requirements of the drive-thru user
  • Whether directional signage and header boards will be needed
  • If there are regulations on the hours for drive-thru operation that need to be known
  • The conditional user permitting necessary to operate a drive-thru
  • Any potential traffic or drive-thru queuing studies that will be needed for the city
  • If you will need to pay any impact traffic fees for a high impact user like a QSR
  • Any Off-site improvements required like deceleration or left turn lanes into the site
  • And whether you will be required to hold any public hearings or neighborhood outreach


The Growing Trend of Redevelopment

Due to all of these complex aspects that need to be considered and addressed correctly, building a drive-thru lane can be an expensive and time-intensive process. In some cases, it can be far more beneficial to instead purchase a property that has existing drive-thru lanes, to be redeveloped as a new QSR user, rather than building a new property from the ground up. 


This has happened many times recently in Phoenix and other parts of the country with good success and is not limited to old QSR spaces being redeveloped. There are many old banks that no longer use drive-up tellers, that are now being redeveloped into QSRs, capitalizing on the existing space, and designing the restaurant experience to properly utilize these existing properties.




Vice President of Development

Peter Krahenbuhl started at SimonCRE in 2015 as a Project Manager and now serves as Vice President of Development. He plays a vital role in the daily planning and development associated with successfully driving multiple projects from inception to completion.


Other Posts by Peter: 

Should You Hire a Developer to Redevelop Your Space?

Hidden Costs of Commercial Redevelopment & How to Avoid Them

Top Benefits of Commercial Redevelopment + Examples

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