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    Fast-Food Drive Thrus Got 20 Seconds Slower in 2019

  • More orders, complex menus are keeping cars in line longer.

    istockphoto / tommaso79
    No matter what changes, speed will always be a key drive-thru metric.

    Built for convenience, the drive thru has always had speed at its crux, but rising pressures pushed drive-thru speed of service up this year. 

    Customers spent an average of 255 seconds from speaker to order window in 2019, about 20 seconds longer than in 2018. And with menus becoming more complex and lanes possibly getting more crowded with not only drive-thru customers but also those picking up mobile orders, it's going to be difficult for brands to shave off seconds moving forward. 

    Dunkin' clocked in with the fastest speed of service, which perhaps can be expected in light of its simpler breakfast, coffee, and treats menu. Still, even with a straightforward menu, the chain has looked for creative digital solutions to prevent the seconds from climbing too high.

    "At several of our Dunkin' NextGen locations, we feature an On-the-Go drive-thru lane, which allows guests who order ahead through the Dunkin' mobile app to bypass the regular drive-thru lane to pick up their orders and get on their way even faster than before," says Scott Murphy, COO for Dunkin' U.S.

    Chick-fil-A is also looking for tech that can quicken its drive-thru process. Team members are posted outdoors with iPads at several locations, using the tablets to take customers' orders and payment at once. The practice achieves two key points of an order in one fell swoop and allows employees to move freely from car to car. According to the data, Chick-fil-A's speed of service takes the longest, but that is due to its constantly crowded lanes that aren't showing any signs of dying down. The brand is on the lookout for additional digital ways to streamline. "We are embracing technology to both provide a better experience for guests and to help take tasks off restaurant team members so they can devote more time to hospitality for our customers," says Khalilah Cooper, director of service and hospitality for Chick-fil-A.

    For other brands, technology plays a role in improving speed-of-service performance, but that technology rests in the kitchen rather than in the drive-thru lane itself. 

    Arby's COO John Kelly says the brand's internal target speed of service is 200 seconds. He adds that ever-developing menus featuring higher-quality, more imaginative sandwiches create a need for a more efficient production line that can quickly assemble orders in time for a customer's arrival at the pick-up window. To speed things up, Arby's is focused on firming up an assembly-line model in each individual store.

    "We know we've got very complex menu items, and our guests are demanding those, so we have to make sure that the engine that we build in our kitchen is able to execute them in a very efficient way," Kelly says.

    [Editor's note: This text was edited to clarify that Chick-fil-A's longer service times were correlated with busier drive-thru lanes.]

    Speed of Service:

    brandsort descendingaverage speed of service seconds
    Arby's263.46
    Burger King235.48
    Carl's Jr.240.51
    Chick-fil-A322.98
    Dunkin'216.75
    Hardee's266.34
    KFC243.73
    McDonald's284.05
    Taco Bell240.38
    Wendy's230.38
    TOTAL255.34

    Speed of Service by Daypart:

    daypartsort descendingspeed of service in seconds
    Breakfast238.84
    Dinner258.28
    Late Afternoon274.71
    Lunch255.68
    Mid-Morning250.57
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    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.