Industry News | June 16, 2010

What They Want from the Drive Thru

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A recent focus group completed for QSR found that drive-thru consumers still demand speed and accuracy from quick serves, but that new technologies and a personable nature might provide operators with a leg up over their drive-thru competitors.

The focus group, conducted by market research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, analyzed the opinions of seven regular drive-thru consumers from around the country.

Topics of discussion included why participants visited certain quick serves over others, what made the drive-thru experience good or bad, and what participants hoped for more of from a drive-thru operator.

Speed and accuracy were the top qualities participants look for from a drive thru.

“Quick service, [and] hot food to my order,” said one male participant from Lake Grove, New York, when asked what made a good drive-thru experience. Another participant, a female from Tennessee, said it’s “fast, friendly, hot [food], and not waiting in a queue.”

Indeed, long lines proved to be a negative factor when participants choose which quick-serve drive thru to visit. The convenience of getting in and out of a drive thru and the close proximity to home were popular reasons for visiting a specific drive thru.

“There are two McDonald’s between my house and the freeway entrance, but both are on the left and require multiple turns, so I usually go to another spot instead,” said one participant, a male from Orange County, California. “Lazy, I know!”

Though most participants agreed that menu offerings are also a big influence in picking which drive thru to visit—five of the seven said menu offerings were “very important” to a drive-thru experience—only one of the participants claimed loyalty to a particular drive thru.

“To me, being loyal to one restaurant is like saying you’re only ever going to eat one thing forever, instead of a variety of things and flavors,” said a female participant from Gary, Indiana.

“I have been going to Sonic for a long time, [but] feeling loyal, I don't know,” said a male participant from Alamogordo, New Mexico. “I think they are loyal to me. They always ask why I have not been in if they do not see me in a certain amount of time.”

Strong customer service was important to the focus group. Most participants agreed that they like to be prompted when first visiting a drive thru; want a smiling, friendly employee; and want an appropriate amount of condiments and napkins without having to ask for them.

Participants also agreed that employees coming outside to take an order or bring an order to the car is a plus when going through the drive thru.

“I love it when they take your order in person,” said the participant from Orange County, California. “[There’s] less chance of messing up, and it feels much more personal.”

One idea that resonated most with focus-group participants was the possibility of installing touch-screen ordering stations in the drive-thru lane.

“I think it'll be easier to place an order that way,” said a female participant from Santa Clara, California. “You don’t have to worry whether the order taker heard you right or not.”

“I think it would be so much easier to just touch what you want, and most likely it would be always right,” the participant from Alamogordo, New Mexico, said. “And it would definitely speed things up.”

Two of the focus group’s participants were not convinced that a touch-screen ordering device would be best for a drive-thru operation.

“I've been behind folks at the grocery store who cannot figure out self-checkout,” the man from Orange County said. “I would not want to be behind one at a drive-thru touch screen.”

None of the participants had ever used a touch-screen ordering device at a restaurant.

Wowing a drive-thru customer apparently stops at getting them through quickly and efficiently. When asked whether or not they wanted more entertainment from the quick serve while waiting in the drive-thru lane, all participants agreed that they were comfortable with sticking with their own devices.

“You know what you are getting into when you go,” the participant from Alamogordo, New Mexico, said.

By Sam Oches


touch screens would be nice, but not practical in northern states in the dead of winter. They would have to be closer to the vehicles and plows would become dangerously close to taking them out. Ever tried to get a touch screen to work with a mitten or glove? If its below zero out, people won't be willing to stick out bare fingers to order a meal. A seasonal approach could be viable, but keep the traditional vocal ordering systems.

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