Drive thru is back. The fast-casual boom initially stole consumers away with its promise of higher-quality food and cozier, more linger-worthy environments. Then third-party tech disruptors seemed to divert even more business away from the drive thru as delivery services grew to gargantuan proportions.

But in recent years, fast-casual stalwarts like Panera, Chipotle, and Starbucks have added drive-thru components to select locations. As it turns out, the demand for quality and the surge in delivery do not preclude the drive thru. If anything, operators see the decades-old service model as key to their brand success—just with a few tech updates.

Tim Young / CEO, Eatsa

With the right technology, drive thru will become even more important than it is today. There is no question that consumers demand convenience, and with the increased appetite to order ahead, we expect a natural evolution of that pickup process. For now, most restaurants have you pick up food at the register or risk getting stuck in the same drive-thru lane as orders are placed on site. Imagine how much easier it would be for both the restaurant and the guest if the process could happen at an external, dedicated pickup point.

The goal of any good restaurant is providing a great meal with a stellar customer experience. Automation—from a food-prep standpoint all the way to the pickup process—can be critical in achieving both those goals. It will improve order accuracy and food prep while allowing for a smoother pick-up process at the drive thru. While we continue to operate our two Eatsa restaurants in San Francisco, our focus as a company is on bringing our unique, forward-thinking technology to restaurants and their consumers through partnerships with tech-savvy brands.

The drive thru of the future will be faster and much more seamless. With digital ordering on the rise, guests can place that order from their mobile device and have it perfectly timed and waiting for them upon their arrival. Technology is the future of making the drive-thru process smoother, faster, and smarter.

Phil Friedman / CEO, Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill

Drive thru is what our consumers want. They want convenience and accessibility, and drive thru and online ordering satisfy that. Fast casual is all about better food in a better environment. Drive thru allows guests to choose their environment while still getting that better food.

Drive thru has been a long-term ambition of mine since I bought the brand. With our improved kitchen efficiency and strong franchisees eager to implement, we were ready for drive thru. What was unique was tailoring our build-your-own concept to a drive-thru menu. Salsarita’s was not pioneering the concept of drive thru, rather we were getting on trend with other quick-service concepts, such as Panera.

Over time our system will be heavily drive thru, led by new development, as our existing restaurants have limited conversion opportunities. We anticipate up to 80 percent of new development—both franchise and company—will be drive thru.

Drive thru will be an integral part of our growth. It gives us the opportunity to add breakfast and late-night in select markets. So much of our business is off-premises, and that will continue to be the theme for us and other fast-casual concepts as we evolve to meet consumer demands. Over time you will see more fast casuals adapting to include drive thru.

Joshua Liang / CEO, Ono Hawaiian BBQ

You see more fast-casual concepts looking to evolve the drive thru. Speaking from our perspective, we don’t have a high percentage of drive thrus because we needed some time to figure out how we can decrease wait times since our food is always grilled to order.

The first drive thru was introduced at our San Pedro, California, location, which was our third store. Since then we have grown to six drive thrus out of 73 stores, which account for 8 percent of our stores.

Now that we’ve discovered the formula—limiting our drive-thru menus to feature only popular items with faster cook times—we are looking to build more drive thrus in the future. With the advancements in technology, we are hoping to connect online ordering, pickup, delivery, and drive thru into one seamless experience in the future.

It works because we have limited the drive-thru menu offerings to items that are high-volume and faster cook times. We also always offer reserved parking spots, so our employees can bring out the food to our customers. About seven out of our 20 future locations will be drive thrus, which is about 35 percent of our future stores.

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