Some restaurant chains are responding to the rising demand for off-premises orders with drive-thru lanes dedicated to mobile customers. Philz Coffee, a San Francisco-based chain, just took things a step further and opened an entire store dedicated to mobile orders. The shop opened Wednesday in S.F.’s Salesforce Transit Center, where Philz also opened a full-service location.
As the mobile-only label suggests, you have to download the Philz app and place all orders through it in order to pick up a coffee at this particular location. When an order is ready, a customer will see their name appear on a board above one of the three counters in the store where drinks are made. There is no indoor seating, and minimal outdoor patio seating.
San Francisco’s Salesforce Transit Center, which is still a work in progress, is a major bus terminal for the city as well as a hub for restaurants and events. By offering a to-go-only store in this location, Philz is clearly capitalizing on the rush-hour foot traffic and number of customers wanting a fast, easy way to grab their morning beverage on the way to work.
The mobile-only format for coffeeshops isn’t unique to Philz. Starbucks unveiled to-go-only stores in China and NYC last year that are similar in that orders are placed through the mobile app and the physical locations have a much smaller footprint due to limited seating.
One thing that isn’t clear about the new Philz location is whether it will accept cash if all orders have to be placed through the mobile app. Much ado has been made over the exclusionary nature of cashless businesses, and San Francisco is among the cities considering a ban on that particular business model.
Another issue this new Philz location will have to contend with, at least for now: the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the Salesforce Transit Center has suspended events at Salesforce Park, a public space located within the Transit Center complex. While both the park and Transit Center remain open for now, this is hardly the optimal time to be opening a new coffee shop in a crowded urban location. Right now, more than three in 10 customers plan to leave the house less often to go out for food and beverages according to a recent survey from Technomic. Work-from-home mandates from major companies will also reduce the number of people moving in and out of public spaces like the Transit Center for the next while.
A spokesperson for Philz told Restaurant Dive that the chain is planning to open more of these mobile-only locations if this pilot location is successful in terms of business. Both the debate over cashless business models and the increasing restrictions on public places due to COVID-19 may very well affect that success, at least in the near future.