Drive-Thru Accuracy Declines After Two-Year Improvement

    It's a trend that restaurants can't afford to ignore.
    The 2019 Drive-Thru Performance Study

    istockphoto / spyderskidoo

    More complex menus, busier lanes, and the drive thru's emphasis on speed are all factors that put pressure on accuracy.

    Average order accuracy in the drive thru fell just over 5 percentage points from last year, interrupting a two-year upward trend. It's a slip that quick-serve companies can't afford to ignore. 

    Most brands place the greatest importance on accuracy out of all drive-thru components—after all, even if a customer receives the food quickly and with great customer service, if it's the wrong order, he or she will most likely remember the experience for its innaccuracy more so than its speed or friendliness.

    What caused accuracy to drop from 89.4 percent in 2018 to 84.4 percent this year? More complex menus, busier lanes, and the drive thru's emphasis on speed are all factors that put pressure on accuracy. But these pressures aren't expected to dwindle in the near future, and it's pushing brands to consider different accuracy solutions.

    "We are rolling out a new kitchen display system, which will present the customer's order in more detail. … Digital menuboards also play a huge role in alleviating some of the stressors in navigating a menu. Furthermore, we are testing the use of video for order confirmation," Taco Bell COO Mike Grams says. Taco Bell had the highest beverage inaccuracy, with about 48 percent of its inaccuracies related to the beverage, but the brand led entrée accuracy with only about 15 percent of its inaccurate orders being the entrée.

    Dinner was the daypart when customers were most likely to receive a wrong order, and guests were most likely to receive an inaccurate entrée order at McDonald's. Chick-fil-A led the pack in total accuracy, at 94 percent. But this makes sense in light of the brand's straightforward offerings, and more intricate menus touted by brands like Taco Bell and Arby's proved to be a stiffer challenge for employees working to deliver complicated orders at top drive-thru speed.

    "If you just add complex items to a menu and don't change the procedures required to put those items together, there's going to be a lot of inaccuracy. We have some of the most complexity in the industry, and we're able to execute it because we're building a production line that allows us to be efficient," Arby's COO John Kelly says. 

    Order Accuracy:

    chain order accuracy percent
    Arby's 86.1
    Burger King 90.3
    Carl's Jr. 84.1
    Chick-fil-A 94.0
    Dunkin' 84.2
    Hardee's 80.7
    KFC 66.1
    McDonald's 84.8
    Taco Bell 83.6
    Wendy's 87.3
    TOTAL 84.4

    Order Accuracy by Daypart:

    daypart order accuracy percent
    Breakfast 86.9
    Dinner 80.3
    Late Afternoon 83.7
    Lunch 85.4
    Mid-Morning 87.0

    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.