Motorway Services Online

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Drive thru

Burger King drive thru.
A closed Burger King drive thru.

A drive thru is a facility which originated in America, where people are able to use some of the facilities without leaving their vehicles. For the customer, it speeds up the purchasing time, while for the operator a drive thru can reduce costs by getting customers to pay their money and leave (meaning less seating needs to provided and the operator wouldn't have to pay VAT on the transaction pre pasty tax). In addition, a drive thru can provide resilience by providing some service even if the rest of the building has to close for some reason.

On major roads in the UK, McDonald's incorpoated a drive thru as part of their standard, prefabricated, building design which became common in the 1990s. This included two sites which later became adopted as motorway services: Lymm and Leeming Bar.

The history of motorway services meant there wasn't much room for McDonald's to move in: the land had previously been leased in one go to an operator, who provided their own facilities. These operators were starting to experiment with their own drive thrus, as part of agreements with Wimpy and Burger King. Some of these were retro-fitted to existing buildings, while others were in new, supplementary buildings.

The motorway drive thrus never caught on. It's possible that operators were uneasy that they wanted customers to be getting out their cars to visit the shops which they operated, or that customers weren't interested because they had to get out to use the toilets anyway. Either way, most of these closed.

In 2008, two new a-road services opened with KFC drive thrus. Welcome Break also experimented with one.

In 2012, Welcome Break brought the motorway drive thru back to the forefront by turning some old buildings into Starbucks drive thrus. These worked, and Welcome Break started developing standalone Starbucks coffee houses with a small amount of seating and a drive thru, meaning motorway services were starting to look like their a-road counterparts with a cluster of different buildings rather than one big one. In response, Moto, Roadchef and Applegreen have started developing Costa drive thrus, usually without any seating, while Euro Garages have stuck to Starbucks.

The phrase drive thru bins is used to describe litter bins with a large funnel, designed to encourage their use by making it easy to throw rubbish into them from a vehicle. They were brought to the UK by McDonald's, but received widespread attention in 2017 after Highways England saw them installed at Lymm, before they were knocked down.

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