Starbucks Has Begun Building Its First Drive-Thru-Only Location In Tucson

CORRECTION 6/23/23: A previous version of this article stated the under-construction drive-thru-only location is Starbucks' first. This is the first drive-thru-only Starbucks in Tucson, other Starbucks drive-thru-only stores have already been built around the U.S.

In a departure from its normal business model, focused on community engagement and building a "third place," KVOA reports Starbucks recently broke ground on its first-ever drive-thru-only location in Tucson, Arizona. The new store is part of a growth initiative Starbucks announced last year during its annual investor gathering. Located on the city's west side, the drive-thru-only outlet is the first of three new shops that Starbucks has planned for the greater Tucson area, including a second drive-thru-only location in midtown.

The new focus on drive-thru-only locations, part of a pivot Starbucks calls its "reinvention," comes in response to a pattern of changing consumer behavior including the use of app-based ordering and a lingering post-Covid social distancing mindset that continues to fuel an uptick in grab-and-go traffic. During the annual investor session last September, the former Starbucks COO John Culver, summed up the move. According to the Seattle Times, Culver told investors that existing stores were built for a different time and that the change in focus is necessary for Starbucks to continue to meet current-day customer standards.

Change is brewing

The move to embrace drive-through-only traffic is a stark contrast to Starbucks' one-time goal of securing its status as a "third place" — an industry term coined to describe a social gathering spot somewhere between home and office. In 2022, 86% of the 450 new stores Starbucks opened featured drive-thru windows. Between 2023 and 2025, 35% of Starbucks' 2,000 planned openings will be drive-thru-only locations while only 2% will be café-style stores. The remainder will be either pick-up or deliver-only locations.

Emily Flippen, an analyst for Motley Fool, told Seattle Times that time will tell whether or not Starbucks successfully maneuvers the pivot without compromising quality or its position as a premium brand worthy of the extra cost compared to competing brands like Dunkin' and McDonald's. But if all goes well, Tucson's soon-to-open drive-thru-only location will help Starbucks achieve its long-term goal of reaching more customers than ever in ways most convenient to them, with plans to have 55,000 locations worldwide by 2030.