Is Starbucks Copying Chick-Fil-A's Drive-Thru Concept?

In the world of fast food, you may start to notice that some things appear more or less the same. If a fast food company releases a popular menu item, then you can bet that everyone from McDonald's to Wendy's will jump on board with their own take on the same menu item. This isn't to say that this is stealing or bad marketing. Trying to replicate the success of another company isn't anything new in the world of fast food. After all, if it worked for the other guys, it could work for them!

But what exactly can be considered "copying" in the world of fast food? Is Domino's plagiarizing Pizza Hut's pizza with its own handmade pan pizza? Is Dunkin' stealing from Krispy Kreme when they sell glazed donuts? It's hard to trademark a certain food since anyone can make a cheeseburger, pizza, or chicken. But there have been times when fast food giants have called foul on their competitors. Burger King called out McDonald's in the United Kingdom for selling Chili Cheese Bites, an item that Burger King sold on its U.K. menus (via the Independent). Burger King also has a sandwich called the Big King, which, perhaps by name alone, is suspiciously similar to McDonald's own Big Mac (via TheStreet). Of course, these can just be happy coincidences in the long run. 

Perhaps it's also a happy coincidence that some Starbucks customers noticed employees taking a page from Chick-fil-A.

Starbucks employees were taking orders with tablets

A TikTok video uploaded by a user named James (@itsjamesstarr) shows a seemingly mundane scenario: cars in line at a Starbucks drive-thru. While a long line of cars at Starbucks isn't anything too out of the ordinary, it's what James captured an employee doing that got people talking. The employee was walking to cars in line, letting them put their orders in via a tablet. This practice is exactly what Chick-fil-A does when its drive-thru lines become too long, having adopted it back in 2021 to help speed customers through the drive-thru without waiting too long (via Chick-fil-A's website). Many commenters were quick to note that other restaurants in their area do the same thing.

"Everyone is starting to do it for some reason, Canes, Portillos, Dunkin', etc"," one TikTok user said. "Zaxby's does it now too," claimed another commenter. "Where I live, they just made a tiny shack for people to at least sit in when they have to do outside orders," reported a third user.

It seems the assumption that Starbucks is mimicking Chick-fil-A is correct — at least in a sense. According to QSR Magazine, Starbucks is actually "taking a page" from Chick-fil-A's drive-thru management as part of a plan to better meet the needs of a changing consumer base following the earlier parts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would also appear that the coffee chain's drive-thru system isn't the only thing changing, as big changes are coming to Starbucks' famous cups.