Special Report | October 2011 | By Sam Oches

QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study

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“Your presell board moves them in the direction you want to improve, either the profitability or add-ons, and by the time they get to the third step—they get there to order—you’ve led them where you want them. Ideally, that’s where we see it.”

The Bells and Whistles

One of the newest features of the drive-thru industry is the order-confirmation board. Once employed by a select few operators, the order-confirmation board has made major inroads into the quick-service industry. McDonald’s, in fact, has order-confirmation boards in place in 96.7 percent of its units, according to the Drive-Thru Performance Study.

But not every member of the benchmark group has gone all in with the boards. Chick-fil-A has order-confirmation boards in place in only 8.6 percent of its units. Del Taco, meanwhile, has the boards in 20.8 percent of its stores, while Taco Bell has them in 46.8
percent.

Baker says low confirmation-board penetration could reflect a brand’s faith in its customer service. He points to Chick-fil-A, which is known for the time it commits to teaching customer service.

“In their case they probably feel like they can have a little greater influence on the person who’s actually delivering the food for them at the drive-thru window, and probably have focused a little bit more energy on working with that group on how to interact with the people and on what to say and on how to check the order,” he says.

Still, many members of the benchmark group say the boards are critical components to the industry moving into the future.

“The confirmation board, to me, is one of the single biggest and best innovations that I think has been developed for drive thrus,” Nelson says. “I think it builds confidence that they’re more likely to get their orders right.” Krystal has confirmation boards in place in 50 percent of its units.

Once order-confirmation boards are in place, operators must ask themselves what they wish to have displayed on the screen.

Jeff Bonner is vice president of operations and training at Culver’s. The Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin–based brand is not a member of the benchmark group, as its made-to-order format sets it apart from typical quick serves. But in 2008, the only year it was researched for the drive-thru study, it came in second place in order accuracy, with 95.2 percent of its orders served correctly.

Bonner says today’s technology allows quick serves to dress up their order-confirmation boards to be as visually appealing as possible, which he says Culver’s explored when the company started to roll out the technology.

“Through our research, when we first started implementing [order-confirmation boards], we put all the bells and whistles on there—the graphics, the words, trying to sell you on something,” Bonner says.

“We were more geared toward the marketing and merchandising element more so than the order confirmation.

“Since then, we have evolved; in the last couple of years, we have done some research with our guests and looked at the industry-wide research. They say, ‘Hey, all I’m really interested in is my order getting made right.’ So we kind of backed off of that mindset and put more emphasis toward the visual aid of confirming their orders more so than merchandising.”

Harkins says Taco Bell is in the same boat. Instead of using the order-confirmation board to do the selling, he says the company uses boards that are appealing to customers but still keep distractions to a minimum.

“We’re utilizing it to make sure we can shorten the functional part of the experience for the customer and make it more of the experiential part of having the service champion and our people and our restaurants and their personalities shine,” he says.

“We’re not trying to have the piece of equipment or POP necessarily sell our product, we’re trying to have the engagement of the employee sell our product.”

Still, Harkins says Taco Bell keeps an open mind regarding new technologies.

“If there’s something out there that matches our operating platform that can increase the customer experience,” he says, “we’ll be looking at it.”

Who Are the Winners?

Harkins’ sentiment may say the most about this year’s benchmark group—if a specific component of the drive thru matches their operating platform, chances are these top brands will invest in making themselves the best at it.

And these seven brands have certainly managed to become the best at much of the drive-thru experience.

Baker says that aside from customer service, there were “very few glaring weaknesses” from the benchmark group studied this year.

“Looking at the overall performance, it does affirm that it is a very, very strong group,” Baker says.

“I would encourage all other chains that are interested to benchmark against these metrics that we’ve done with this group. They’ve consistently demonstrated that they are ahead of the class.”

Read the Methodology

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