Special Report | October 2011 | By Sam Oches

QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study

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“Once they’re certified, they’re sharp looking, they have a great personality, they’re outgoing, you can feel their presence through the speaker,” he says. “We hear people say, ‘Boy, I can hear you smiling through the speaker.’”

The benchmark group also excels at making sure nearly every word coming through the speaker can be heard. According to the QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study, 95–96 percent of the units at six of the quick serves surveyed had “clear and understandable” speaker interactions. Krystal’s clarity rate was 89.2 percent.

The bad news may be what is, or is not, being said. Baker is quick to point out that customer-service numbers are not as high as he expected them to be from the top performers.

“When you look at the numbers for the customer service … we had 38 percent say they thought service was ‘very friendly,’” he says. “Another 38 percent said ‘pleasant.’ And about 16 or 17 percent said ‘average.’”

Baker says the numbers show some room for improvement, particularly in the number of employees who said “please” (53.7 percent overall), the number of employees who said “thank you” (86.6 percent), the number of employees who made eye contact (81.4 percent), and the number of employees who had a “pleasant demeanor” (78.6 percent).

No More Fat and Sassy

Customers have all been there: After placing their order in the drive thru, they pull around the corner to find a sign in the first window reading, “Please pull up to second window.”

Not only is this scenario confusing for them, it raises the question: Just how many windows does a drive thru need?

Krystal’s Nelson says the quick-serve industry got “fat and sassy” before the recession, building bigger stores with more dining-room space and more drive-thru windows. But with the economy forcing operators to reconsider their build-out costs, the future lies in trimmed fat, streamlined operations, and doing more with less.

“We build efficiency right there in the window area with the single-window drive thru, and get just as much, if not more, efficiency out of that window with people working together,” he says, adding that all future Krystal units will have just one window.

“They’re both working as a team, getting drinks and bagging and helping the managers consolidate and get the food out,” he says.

Harkins says a one-lane drive thru helps improve the perception of speed, and a one-window drive thru helps improve the actual speed.

“Based on the volume, and based on the number of cars that go through your peak hour, we believe we can be faster in the overall time (which is different than perception) by having two people in one window moving the process through that way,” he says.

John Miologos is executive vice president of architecture, engineering, and construction management at WD Partners, a foodservice design firm. He suggests an order station that allows customers to pay instantly with their credit cards.

“If at some point in time … the use of credit overcomes the use of cash, then I would think that there’s a possibility of eliminating one of the windows,” Miologos says. “[That’s] the reason you have two-window systems in many [quick serves] … and the cash transaction is probably the limiter in the speed.”

Another possibility in limiting the number of drive-thru windows is stationing an employee outside with a POS tablet to take orders. This technique, which also helps bust lines, is being tested by many quick serves in an effort to shoulder the workload for the drive-thru workers.

Pope says Del Taco positions a crewmember outside most of its drive thrus, regardless of its traffic. But he says the technology still isn’t there for an outdoor crewmember to do anything more than taking orders.

Addressing the Look

All of the experts stress that the exterior appearance of the lane is critical in supporting the drive thru.

The benchmark group is setting the standard for exterior appearance. Chick-fil-A scored 99.7 percent with “favorable” exteriors, while Taco Bell came in at No. 2 with 99.3 percent. The lowest score was Burger King at 95.3 percent, still a statistic to be proud of.

“We want the building to be appealing, not just the drive thru—that curb appeal that makes someone pull in,” Harkins says. “Then what we want our drive thru to be is very customer friendly. So, canopy over the order-taking point, a canopy over the window in case it’s raining or there’s bad weather. We look to make sure our drive thru is very functional, and our overall building is what is appealing to our customers.”

Canopies and attractive landscaping were also mentioned by all the operators we talked to as important characteristics for the drive thru’s appearance.

Another element of the drive thru that several operators employ to support both their drive-thru appearance and convenience is the presell menuboard. Presell boards let customers determine their order while waiting in line, before they approach the order station.

Krystal’s Nelson says presell menu-boards are important for the drive-thru experience. He says Krystal has presell boards in place in most of the chain’s units.

In fact, Nelson has boiled the drive thru down to a signage science.

“By the time they get to the menu-board, you’ve got them on the lot with a big message up front, either on your message board or the [point-of-purchase message] on your window,” he says.

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