Suggestive Selling in the Drive Thru: More Art Than Science

    Which restaurant chains lead the way?
    Drive Thru | October 2019 | Sam Oches
    The 2019 Drive-Thru Performance Study

    wendy’s / Thomas Dubanowich

    It's not as simple as just doing it or not doing it.

    Similar to OCBs, suggestive selling is no slam dunk in the drive-thru lane. All brands do it to some degree, but only one company, Carl's Jr., featured a suggestive sell in the majority of visits during the study. 

    There are a number of reasons why restaurants suggest other menu items to add to a purchase. It could be to get trial on a new menu innovation, or possibly to complete a meal; the vast majority of upsells at every brand were either for a combo or a special. But of course, profit is the main objective, as suggestive sells drive higher check averages. 

    As Arby's Kelly explains it, there's a bit more of an art to the suggestive sell than simply doing it or not doing it. He says employees are directed to play each interaction by ear; if the drive thru isn't too busy or if a customer orders very quickly and can afford a bit more time at the order station, Arby's employees can engage that customer with a suggestive sell. It's a good opportunity, he adds, for team members to show a little personality.

    "If my team isn't running a fast and efficient drive thru that's as friendly as possible and hitting 100 percent accuracy, quite honestly, I don't need them doing any suggestive selling," he says. "If you're running a very efficient drive thru and somebody just ordered a sandwich and a drink, I want you to make sure that you let them know they can have some great Curly Fries to complete the deal."

    Of course, as Kelly also notes in reference to order-confirmation boards, digital menuboard technology can also do the upselling for the employee by suggesting potential add-ons on the screen. This was a major factor for McDonald's in its Dynamic Yield acquisition as well; CEO Steve Easterbrook noted in the company's Q2 earnings report in July that the technology could automatically suggest additional items based on the guest's order and other factors. 

    Suggestive Sell:

    chain suggestive sell offered percent
    Arby's 37.0
    Burger King 30.3
    Carl's Jr. 54.9
    Chick-fil-A 33.9
    Dunkin' 21.8
    Hardee's 39.8
    KFC 44.2
    McDonald's 20
    Taco Bell 18.2
    Wendy's 27.3
    TOTAL 31.1

    Type of Suggestive Sell:

    chain combo meal special promo dessert upsize combo new item baked goods addl side item larger drink size other
    Arby's 60.7 9.8 11.5 27.9 3.3 0 0 9.8 3.3
    Burger King 54.0 12.0 4.0 28.0 0 0 6.0 14.0 16.0
    Carl's Jr. 57.8 28.9 6.7 8.9 8.9 2.2 0 6.7 13.3
    Chick-fil-A 71.0 0 6.5 22.6 0 1.6 3.2 17.7 4.8
    Dunkin' 8.3 30.6 5.6 5.6 2.8 8.3 16.7 22.2 11.1
    Hardee's 45.5 36.4 0 21.2 6.1 3.0 3.0 3.0 0
    KFC 69.9 17.8 5.5 4.1 1.4 1.4 6.8 1.4 6.8
    McDonald's 75.8 3.0 9.1 18.2 6.1 0 0 21.2 3.0
    Taco Bell 46.7 13.3 16.7 10.0 10.0 0 10.0 30.0 3.3
    Wendy's 55.6 22.2 8.9 24.4 0 2.2 2.2 6.7 4.4

    Suggestive Sell Timing:

    chain with the greeting after the order was placed
    Arby's 19.7 80.3
    Burger King 24.0 76.0
    Carl's Jr. 60.0 40.0
    Chick-fil-A 12.9 87.1
    Dunkin' 30.6 69.4
    Hardee's 54.5 45.5
    KFC 34.2 65.8
    McDonald's 24.2 75.8
    Taco Bell 23.3 76.7
    Wendy's 26.7 73.3

    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.