In all likelihood, the answer is no. That’s because your drive-thru is probably like almost any other … a generic experience. As a result it’s obscured in the “Sea of Sameness.” With 60 percent or more of a quick-service restaurant’s business currently taking place in the drive-thru, and its popularity growing, there is a strong need to differentiate your drive-thru experience and break through the clutter.

What’s the “Blindfold Test?” Theoretically it’s when a customer is taken blindfolded to an unidentified drive-thru. When the blindfold is removed, can the customer quickly identify the specific brand of the drive-thru? Some brands have done a great job of differentiating and owning their drive-thru experience. For example, Starbuck’s new drive-thrus leverage brand identity and their green and white trade dress in wayfinding and menu communications … Starbucks also brings elements of the inside customer experience to the drive-thru via an enhanced, personalized barista-to-customer connection.

The challenge then becomes how to differentiate your drive-thru experience? How do quick-serve’s differentiate themselves in a crowded field? How do fast casual restaurants differentiate their drive-thru experience from quick-service and their fast-casual competitors?

There’s a lot of talk these days about technology and its important role in enhancing the drive-thru customer experience. There’s no question technology is critical to this. That being said, the latest technology is available to all restaurants. So while it may be a differentiator for a while, sooner or later your competitors will have the same technology as you, and your drive-thru is obscured again in the “sea of sameness.”

The key to differentiating your drive-thru experience exists in your brand, its heritage, equity and DNA. Importantly, these are elements proprietary to your brand. Your brand owns them and they cannot be copied by a competitor with any credibility or without taking on legal risks.

Where to start? It starts with your brand and who you are. What’s your heritage and what are you known for? What makes your brand unique: signature menu items, service, brand promise, personality, brand identity, trade dress? Collectively, these will serve as the strategic framework for the development of proprietary drive-thru concepts. These will be the result of innovative thinking and disrupting the norm. These are what will make your drive-thru experience pass the “Blindfold Test”, grow your business, and establish your brand a leader in drive-thru.

Tom Cook is a Principal of King-Casey []. For more than half a century, King-Casey has been helping restaurant brands grow their businesses and dramatically improve the customer experience. King-Casey’s solutions are firmly grounded in insights derived from hard data and analytics relative to consumer behavior. King-Casey provides a complete range of drive-thru innovation, and menu optimization services including assessment, research, menu reengineering, menu strategy, and menu communications. King-Casey and Personica recently started working together to help restaurant brands optimize their menus and pricing strategy. You can email Tom at

Drive Thru, Outside Insights, Story