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    2012 QSR Drive-Thru Study

  • How the best drive-thru operations in the industry make the wheels go ’round.

    Taco Bell has the second fastest drive thru in quick service.

    The “please” and “thank you” effect

    In last year’s study, Baker claimed customer-service numbers were lower than he expected, and that the benchmark brands had room to improve. This year’s data shows companies have work left to do. While the total percentage of units that said “please” climbed from 53.7 to 57.2 percent, the same tally for “thank you” fell from 86.6 to 85.9 percent. Meanwhile, only 37.8 percent of total units were “very friendly” and 37.4 percent were “pleasant,” down from 38.5 percent on each attribute a year ago.

    “Even with pleasant demeanor, I’m thinking, why would that not be 100 percent?” Baker says. “OK, so maybe 98 percent because everybody has a bad day, but it just seems like a no brainer to me. I’m still scratching my head on that.”

    Brand representatives nonetheless claim customer service is near the top of their drive-thru priority list.

    “Part of it is to make certain we are hiring the right people,” Lynch says. “Wouldn’t it be nice if [the drive-thru crewmember] had a great personality? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could smile at you? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could say, ‘Thank you, come back again’? So you hire people that have that personality and the skill level to be able to do that. … You can’t just assume that they can handle every situation until they’ve done thorough training.”

    Pendergast says Krystal also pays close attention to the personalities of crewmembers it hires for the drive thru—“If mom and dad haven’t coached you on [‘please’ and ‘thank you’], it’s too late for us to do so,” he says—but that employees must also know how to react when things go askew in the drive thru.

    “We’d like to think we get it right every single time, but we don’t yet achieve that,” he says. “And when we don’t get it right, having a team member that has a customer-oriented mentality makes all the difference in how they handle that miss. Do they apologize graciously? Do they proactively offer a drink or free apple pie to make up for their wait? A sincere apology goes a long way.”

    Speaker clarity can help facilitate friendly customer service, a fact that benchmark brands don’t take lightly. With the exception of Krystal, at least 92 percent of each brand’s units had “clear and understandable” speakers.

    Pendergast says Krystal’s 85.8 percent mark is something the brand is working on.

    “As evidenced by your research, we have opportunities to improve in speaker clarity,” he says, adding that the company is working to identify its units that do not have clear speakers. “When we find a restaurant that has low scores, then we can drill into understanding, Is it a headset issue? Is it a speaker issue? What’s the root cause of the problem? And we’re actually working right now on some new technology that would leverage blue-tooth wireless headsets and voice-over IP as a different way of managing the drive-thru speaker.”


    The primary objective for this study is to determine the leading restaurant chains in several categories of drive-thru operations. Categories measured in the study include, but are not limited to: wait time, service time, order accuracy, suggestive sell incidence, exterior appearance, speaker clarity, and menuboard appearance. A group of six core chains were included in the study: Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Krystal, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s. Bojangles’ was the regional chain included this year.

    Restaurants were visited between the lunch hours of 11 am and 2:30 pm, and between the dinner hours of 4 pm and 7 pm. Any given restaurant location could be visited a maximum of two times, once during the lunch period and once during the dinner period. During each visit, the researcher would time him/herself as they proceeded through the drive-thru line. All researchers used cash to pay for the three required items: a main item, a side item, and a beverage. The researcher made one special request for each visit. For example, a researcher could order a Whopper with no pickles at Burger King or a taco combo meal with a request for hot sauce packets at Taco Bell. Visits were conducted across 41 states and included assessments in both Alaska and Hawaii. Researchers then observed and timed another vehicle as it made its way through the drive-thru line. While on site, researchers took note of the presence of pre-sell menuboards, order confirmation boards, awnings above the speaker, and placement of the Dumpsters, and recorded information about their experience with speaker clarity, cleanliness of the landscaping, and the level of customer service received.

    The data for the study was collected during June, July, and August of 2012. A sample size selected for each chain was based on the total number of drive-thru units each chain operates. Analysis was performed to set sample sizes, which resulted in approximately the same margin of error for each chain included in the study. A total of 2,053 visits were conducted, which yielded 4,071 time studies. Approximately 64 percent of the visits occurred during the lunch period and 36 percent during the dinner hours.