Forbes pulls up in Dexter: What Happens When An A&W Drive-In Decides To Stay Open Year-Round

There are still drive-in restaurants scattered around that are open in spring, summer and fall and then close for the winter.

You drive past your favorites, looking on longingly, knowing the owners are getting a well-deserved rest, but eager for them to re-open.

However, one of the country’s most successful drive-ins has made a big decision to stay open year-round.

The A&W restaurant in Dexter, Michigan, trumpeted its move in a billboard on the outskirts of town.

“BREAKING NEWS,” it declares from a mythical newspaper front page, “Dexter A&W Open All Year!”

This A&W sits on a hillside, over looking the city of 4,800 about 50 miles west of Detroit. But it is not just any A&W.

Despite the town’s small size, the Dexter A&W is the second-busiest among all A&Ws in the state of Michigan, behind one in Monroe, and it is the second-busiest of all A&W drive-ins, outranked only by Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

In December, A&W said its year-to-date sales rose 2.4%, marking its best performance since 2016. It has been owned by its franchisees since 2011, when they bought it from Yum Brands.

On a peak day in July, the Dexter A&W can serve 1,000 customers, says the owner, Coley O’Brien. Their average check is between $8 and $10, meaning $10,000 a day in peak revenue.

Employment averages about 50 people in the summer, when the restaurant hires high school and college students. That drops to 15 full-time staff when the seasonable employees return to class.

O’Brien says he decided to try a year-around schedule after talking to his permanent employees.

Even though it meant working in frigid temperatures and when snowflakes may be falling, he says staff members were in favor of the full-year move.

The restaurant’s schedule was already heading in that direction: Once open only from March through November, the Dexter A&W had begun to stay open later into December, and reopen in February.

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