Are Digital Menuboards the Future of the Drive Thru?

    Despite the advantages, less than 20 percent of the brands in this year's study had one.
    Drive Thru | October 2019 | Sam Oches
    The 2019 Drive-Thru Performance Study

    istockphoto / bgwalker

    McDonald's Dynamic Yield deal could set a standard for brands to follow when it comes to tech-driven order points.

    Data shows that digital menuboards are still slow to take hold in the quick-serve industry. Only 19.3 percent of all visits in the Drive-Thru Study included a digital menuboard. But the major brands are paying close attention to the technology and how it can best fit into their ecosystems. Cooper, for example, says Chick-fil-A is "evaluating how to best leverage digital capabilities to provide real-time information and allow for personalization."

    Taco Bell, meanwhile, is rolling out digital boards that give customers more power over their drive-thru experience. "Our early-stage implementation of drive-thru digital menuboards has proven to help customers engage with the menu in a new way that is easy to navigate and gives them more control in their ordering experience," Grams says.

    This goes to show just how significant McDonald's Dynamic Yield acquisition really was. The move was a big bet that menuboard technology will unlock major potential moving into the future, and the company is moving quickly to roll it out, planning to have the predictive technology in all U.S. and Australia locations by the end of the year.

    "I've got to say, three months in, I couldn't be more pleased with the integration of Dynamic Yield, both as a company and as a culture," Easterbrook said during the company's Q2 report. "But also, frankly, [with] getting the capabilities into our restaurants." He added that average checks were up at the 700 restaurants that had Dynamic Yield capabilities at that time, and that customers were adding french fries, drinks, Chicken McNuggets, and other favorites to their orders when prompted. 

    Easterbrook also noted earlier this year that McDonald's was installing "zoom boards," or small, digital screens in the drive thru that provide real-time service times within the restaurant. These identify where the bottlenecks are and oversees cash handling, payment, or perhaps when guests are asked to park and wait because their food isn't ready.

    Digital menu:

    chain digital menuboard in place percent
    Arby's 12.1%
    Burger King 17.0%
    Carl's Jr. 22.0%
    Chick-fil-A 17.5%
    Dunkin' 10.0%
    Hardee's 15.7%
    KFC 9.1%
    McDonald's 60.6%
    Taco Bell 17.6%
    Wendy's 11.5%
    TOTAL 19.3%

    Pre-sell menu:

    chain presell menuboard in place percent
    Arby's 42.4%
    Burger King 66.7%
    Carl's Jr. 80.5%
    Chick-fil-A 36.1%
    Dunkin' 24.8%
    Hardee's 88.0%
    KFC 50.3%
    McDonald's 75.2%
    Taco Bell 37.6%
    Wendy's 78.8%
    TOTAL 54.9%

    Digital menu speed:

    timeframe speed with digital menu present in seconds speed without digital menu present in seconds
    Service time 280.91 249.23
    Wait time 80.56 69.58
    Total time 361.47 318.81

    Pre-sell menu speed:

    timeframe speed with presell menu present in seconds speed without presell menu present in seconds
    Service time 252.20 259.17
    Wait time 69.43 74.46
    Total time 321.63 333.63

    2019 QSR drive-thru performance study Methodology

    Data for the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study was collected and tabulated by SeeLevel HX. The study included 10 chains and data from 1,503 visits, with the following break-down of visits by chain: Arby's (165), Burger King (165), Carl's Jr. (82), Chick-fil-A (183), Dunkin' (165), Hardee's (83), KFC (165), McDonald's (165), Taco Bell (165), and Wendy's (165). Visits were conducted across the country, across all regions and dayparts. No restaurant location was visited more than once. All data was collected between June 1 and August 1.

    Daypart analysis was based on the time of day of the visit—breakfast (5-9 a.m.), mid-morning (9-11:30 a.m.), lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), late afternoon (1:30-4 p.m.), and dinner (4-7 p.m.). The distribution of visits mirrored revenue by daypart.

    Upon each visit, a data collection researcher surveyed the drive-thru lane and then entered the line as any other customer. Each order placed by our researchers consisted of one main item, one side item, and one beverage. A minor special request was also made with each order, such as beverage with no ice. Although two different speed-of-service times were recorded for each visit (one for the researchers' order/experience and another from a randomly selected vehicle), all tables within this feature are related to the researchers' own vehicle and experience only, as this was the controlled order. Service time was defined as the time from stopping at the order station to receipt of all items (including change). Additional data collected by each researcher included but was not limited to: order accuracy, drive-thru and exterior appearance, speaker clarity, and customer service. All purchases were made using cash so as not to influence timing.