A recent article in the Calgary Herald (“Customers are getting fed up over wait times at retail outlets”, August 27 2008) cited a new study finding evidence that "86% (of Canadian consumers) say that least once they have re-shelved their purchases or skipped the coffee and left the store" due to long lines.
Interestingly, the reporter interviewed a customer at Tim Horton’s. (For those not familiar with Tim Horton’s, it’s a very popular chain of Canadian coffee/donut shops. They are famous for something called a "double-double" which is a coffee with two creams and two sugars.) Being a non-Canadian, I find the Tim Horton’s phenomenon amazing: Aside from serving what I think is very bad coffee, every Tim Horton’s seems to have huge line of customers. In MacEwan Hall on the University of Calgary campus, there are at least three coffee places of which Tim Horton’s is the only one with a significant line (sometimes in excess of 25 people).
A new Tim Horton’s recently opened relatively close to my house. It is included with a Shell station and is about two blocks from another Tim Horton’s (located in an Esso station). What is amazing about the new Tim Horton’s (aside form the fact that people actually drink this coffee) is the lineup at the drive-through. My guess is that it averages six cars throughout the day and I’ve counted as many as 22 cars in the morning. This latter amount is so many that it blocks people from getting gas at the Shell station.
This leads me to wonder a bit about the environmental costs of drive-through services. Most of the cars in the lines are idling, which is probably the least efficient use of one's car. Moreover, most of the people in the drive-through are able-bodied and would be able to purchase their double-double from the line inside (where, incidentally, there are multiple servers as opposed to a single server at the drive through).
Due to these environmental costs, some communities have sought to regulate or even ban drive-throughs. I offer my $.02 on this issue: I think it would be wise for businesses offering drive-through services to include a surcharge for these services. Individuals using the drive-through are likely doing so as a matter of convenience and this convenience is something the company can charge for. By increasing costs the drive-through, firms will capitalize on this additional convenience they provide and increase the cost of idling your car in line. Essentially, this is a profit-maximizing way for firms to get individuals internalize the environmental externality they are imposing when waiting in line at the drive through.
Of course, there may be fairness issues regarding those individuals who use the drive-through because they are less mobile (e.g., the elderly, individuals with physical handicaps). I guess this is all simply food for thought (although I wouldn’t recommend Tim Horton’s donuts either).