Starbucks Corp. is adding video screens to the drive-thru lanes of 2,400 cafes in the U.S., an attempt to revamp a decades-old ordering system that has become central to how restaurant chains interact with customers.
The screens, which will be added over the next year, show drivers the barista’s face, along with items ordered and the cost, the Seattle-based company said. Starbucks had previously tested the displays in its hometown, part of a push to use technology to improve efficiency and service.
"It’s about that customer-barista connection," said Haley Drage, a spokeswoman for the company.
The move underscores the technological arms race being waged by restaurant chains, which are using apps, touch screens and loyalty programs to keep customers happy. Starbucks, considered a leader in technology, recently rolled out mobile ordering to the U.S. and Canada in a bid to boost sales with faster and more convenient service. Mobile-phone payments currently make up about 20 percent of Starbucks’ U.S. transactions, and the company has roughly 10.4 million active rewards members domestically.
The drive-thru isn’t as crucial to Starbucks as it is to fast-food chains like McDonald’s Corp., which get about two- thirds of sales that way. But the coffee giant wants to give drivers something closer to the in-store experience, which Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz has said is a reason for the company’s growth. Revenue has increased by more than 10 percent in each of the past three reported fiscal years.
"Our brand is defined quintessentially by the experience in our stores," Schultz said at an investor conference earlier this year. "And our stores come to life by our people."
In another move to build its tech capabilities, Starbucks this month named Adobe Systems Inc. executive Gerri Martin-Flickinger to the newly created role of chief technology officer. Martin-Flickinger is reporting to Chief Operating Officer Kevin Johnson, another longtime technology executive.