In early September, Burger King unveiled restaurant designs for the future, including a fully contactless model with a suspended kitchen and dining room sitting above drive-thru lanes, configured to reduce the building’s footprint. Drive-thru customers can even have their order delivered via conveyor belt system.

But what about the present? The COVID-19 challenges facing Burger King and its sister brands, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, aren’t on hold.

Parent company Restaurant Brands International announced Tuesday morning it will modernize the drive-thru experience at more than 10,000 Burger King and Tim Hortons locations by the end of next year, with Popeyes beginning a rollout of its own in late 2020. This includes the installation of about 40,000 screens.

Burger King has more than 6,500 U.S. drive thrus. This past quarter, drive-thru mix lifted to more than 85 percent of total sales versus two-thirds in 2019.

“Our guests have sought out our drive-thru lanes for our iconic food and beverages throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—even in the face of mandated dining room closures around the world,” CEO Jose Cil said in a statement. “We believe strongly that it is time to modernize our drive-thru lanes throughout the US and Canada to provide even better, quicker and contactless service for our guests.

The initiative includes presenting menu options on digital screens tailored to each guest, as well as the integration of the company’s loyalty program at the moment of ordering, providing remote, contactless payment to speed up drive-thru lanes in the near future, Cil added.


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“We have attracted exceptional digital and technology talent to join our global team and our digital drive-thru menu board initiative is just one in a series of strategic projects that we are rolling out over the next year to strengthen our business model and improve the level of service we provide to our guests,” Josh Kobza, RBI’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Here’s what to expect:

Predictive selling

RBI is designing new digital drive-thru menuboards with predicative selling technology created by the company’s in-house “guest intelligence” team. These will allow for special promotions to be curated based on previous orders, regional weather patterns, the time of day, and many other factors. It’s similar, in some ways, to McDonald’s Dynamic Yield technology.

RBI said the platform can dynamically learn preferred ordering habits and also show the latest and trending menu items most-ordered in the customer’s location. The company’s guest intelligence team will continue to refine the technology to further enhance guests’ ordering experience over time, it said.

Integrated loyalty program

The menuboards were created with the ability to integrate loyalty programs, allowing for customized menu items to be displayed based on a guests’ favorite purchases and redemption history. This functionality is currently live and piloting at 30 locations in Canada with the Tims Rewards program. All digital drive-thru menuboards in the U.S. and Canada were designed to accommodate loyalty integration via scanning, Bluetooth, or near-field communication.

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Remote, contactless payment

RBI’s digital menuboards also feature the flexibility to add immediate, remote contactless payment to allow guests to order and pay simultaneously, and speed up drive-thru lanes. The company partnered with payment solutions provider Verifone to develop a new global remote contactless payment device for drive-thru lanes. The first prototype is currently running at a Tim Hortons in Canada, with 15 additional units to test the functionality by January 2021.


Weather-proof installations

New installations are using enclosures modeled to withstand the heat of the southern U.S., the cold of Canada’s north, and the corrosive, salty air from cities along North America’s oceans, RBI said. The enclosures are IP56 certified, which means they are fully waterproof and can sustain continuous water pressure, even from waterjets. Existing drive thrus will be retrofitted to this standard to ensure the “long-term integrity of this important guest touch point,” the company noted.

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RBI’s 40,000-plus outdoor-rated 46-inch screens are powered by STRATACACHE Media Engines that are clustered together, redundantly, for high availability. In other terms, if any of the four digital screens in a typical drive thru loses communication with its primary media player, the secondary media player will take over and keep the content displayed correctly. Additionally, STRATACACHE provides 24/7 network monitoring to RBI’s restaurants from National Operation Centers in Ohio and Montreal. The company can manage any digital screen and update or modify RBI’s menuboard content across remaining digital screens in the event of a hard screen failure.

Red Mango

In terms of rollout, Tim Horton installed digital drive-thru menuboards at about 800 locations in the U.S. and Canada by September. Burger King has brought them to 1,500 U.S. restaurants already. Popeyes, as noted before, will begin installing at new locations later this year. The 10,000 target is a mid-2022 projection.

A typical drive-thru lane for RBI includes four digital screens, while double drive-thru lanes typically boast a total of seven. RBI said it’s assessing drive-thru locations and, where possible, will install double drive-thru lanes to increase capacity and efficiency.

“We are excited to roll out digital drive-thru menu boards to over 10,000 Tim Hortons and Burger King restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, the bulk of which will be installed by the end of next year,” Cil said.

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Just-released results

RBI Tuesday also shared results for the third quarter, which ended September 30. Tim Hortons’ same-store sales declined 12.5 percent, including 13.7 percent in its Canada market.

Burger King declined 7 percent globally (down 3.2 percent in the U.S. and 10.3 percent internationally). Those figures lapped difficult comps of plus 5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, in Q3 2019.

Popeyes remained on the front foot with U.S. comp gains of 19.7 percent against a 10.2 percent bump in Q3 2019, providing a nearly 30 percent two-year stack. And even more impressively, the 10.2 percent figure was the start of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich run. So the brand is continuing to grow off one of the most successful promotions in industry history.

Overall, Popeyes reported a 17.4 percent result as international comps slipped 0.3 percent.

The chicken chain closed Q3 with 3,148 restaurants (2,551 in the U.S.). In Q3 2018, those figures were 3,192 and 2,411, respectively.

As of September 30, Burger King had 18,675 units (7,216 stateside). A year ago, it was 18,232 and 7,298.

Tim Hortons today has 4,934 global stores, with 3,981 in Canada. Q3 2019: 4,887 and 3,991.

RBI generated more than 94 percent of prior-year systemwide sales in Q3 with 96 percent of restaurants open globally. Cash flow from operations increased to more than $400 million.

“Our results this quarter are once again a testament to the incredibly hard work our team members, restaurant owners and employees have put in to re-open our restaurants and continue serving millions of guests every day. Looking forward, we are very well-positioned to navigate through a wide range of possible scenarios, especially given the strength of our network of drive-thrus and fast-growing delivery channel,” Cil said.

“Despite our continued near-term focus on confronting the challenges presented by this global health crisis, we continue to make progress behind our long-term vision for the business, including modernizing our brands by leveraging the technology capabilities we’ve built in recent years,” he added.

Drive Thru, Fast Food, Restaurant Operations, Story, Burger King, Popeyes, Tim Hortons