When you talk to successful drive-thru operators about how best to improve speed of service, one theme you will hear again and again is “Buy timers and hold contests.”

Insula Research, the firm that conducts the annual QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study, undertook an unprecedented research program to determine if statistical correlations can be established between the presence of timers and improvements in drive-thru speed of service. In other words, are drive-thrus with timers generally faster?

A statistically significant restaurant sample was selected at random. The sample included 1,092 locations from Arby’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Hardees, KFC, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s in various parts of the U.S. More than two-thirds of the units sampled had a drive-thru timer in place, and researchers visited each location to measure service time (defined as the time from when the vehicle stops at the order station to the time when the entire order is received).

Overall, the study found that speed-of-service timers have a positive impact — restaurants with timers were on average 29 seconds faster than those without timers.

The data was further analyzed to determine if a decrease in service time could be directly connected to timers for particular dayparts. Approximately 800 data points were collected during lunch time, the busiest time of the day for drive-thru operations, while about 300 were collected during dinner hours.

For the majority of restaurants, service times for dinner were greater than at lunch. And, in general, the restaurants without a timer had longer service times during both lunch and dinner periods. Restaurants with timers were on average 31 seconds faster during lunch and 27 seconds faster during dinner than those without a drive-thru timer.

The number of vehicles in line for service also has a direct impact on the total time a customer spends at the drive-thru — as the number of vehicles in line increases, so too does the service time. This was also analyzed, as speed of service data was broken into 0-2, 3-5, and 6 or more vehicles in line for service to determine if the restaurants with timers performed better than those without.

Once again, drive-thrus with timers were generally faster. In fact, the more vehicles there were in line, the greater the time disparity between drive-thrus with timers and those without.


How exactly do timers help with speed of service?

The basic answer, of course, is that they measure and display service times from multiple points of the drive-thru. Typical timer installations track customers from the order point at the menuboard, through the queue, to the service window, but it’s also possible to include additional detection points such as preview boards and greet time.

Armed with the information provided by timers, operators will know not only how many cars visited the drive-thru at various times of the day, but also the average time customers spent in the drive-thru and which point has the longest wait time. This type of specific data helps identify constraints, target specific areas of drive-thru service, and take immediate action to drive improvements.

Those improvements can often be significant. Bill Mayeski is a district manager for Taco Bell who turned to HME’s Zoom Drive-Thru System for help. “Within one week of installing Zoom at a store with historical speed-of-service problems,” he says, “we shaved 60 seconds off our total drive-thru time.”

Drive Thru, News