Special Report | October 2012 | By Sam Oches

2012 QSR Drive-Thru Study

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Taco Bell has the second fastest drive thru in quick service. image used with permission.

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.



Yes the Summit pts timer

I will take freshness and quality over speed every time!

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Thank you Chick-fil-A for setting standards in more ways than one. Your teams are my heroes and I do mean your front line teams and your adherence to your core corporate philosophy. Very nice to see, Competent, Nice and Dedication lead an industry. My best to you.

Del Taco is the FASTEST. At least my Del Taco is. Crazy fast drive thru line.

That's great. The two Del Tacos where I lived in CA were both ridiculously slow. At least I got hot food.

they all cheat anyway. can you pull off to the side and have someone bring it out for you?

Of all the companies I've ever written to with a complaint, comment, or suggestion, Burger King is the ONLY one who didn't respond to my complaint with at least a letter of apology and/or a coupon for a future visit. I will say that the situation at my local BK improved, so maybe my letter did some good, even if BK didn't acknowledge it.

Do you just go around complaining all the time?

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I can vouch for Wendy's efforts at improving service times. They do it in a number of ways. First, everyone wears a headset. That way, if you're not busy, you can pitch in to assist the drive-thru by setting up the frozen desserts or something else. Second, the crew is assigned to certain duties but, in case of a bottleneck, are moved to another area to assist until the problem is handled. Third, over the past few years, they have installed timers in the stores that track the customer service times from the second the customer arrives at the drive-thru menu board until they drive off. These timers record how long the customer is at the menu board, how long the customer is in the drive-thru line after ordering, how long the customer waits at the drive-thru window waiting to receive their order and how long it takes them to clear the drive-thru area. Additionally, cashiers have change ready before the customer arrives at their window and, at the second window, all the condiments and paper goods are stocked for quick packing and service. No one in the drive-thru service team is to leave the service to retrieve paper goods, condiments, etc, because someone outside of the drive-thru area is assigned that chore. Managers are encouraged to set up contests for the fastest service time during a certain time period, ie. a week. It's very much team-oriented and is taken very seriously. Managers are always involved with this service, too. There is no such nthing as a manager sitting in the office during a rush period.

in my neighborhood which is considered among the poorer area we have mcdonalds and a wendys side by side both very modern but mcdonalds out sells wendys 5 to 1. Could someone tell me why?

Wendy only won, because they interrupt you several times while you try to order.

Wendy's may be fast, but unfortunately the food is horrible. Not only do they not put out the correct orders, the food is of the poorest quality!!!! I would much rather wait longer food foodthat is edible than to get bad food fast!!!!

Agreed. Wendy's may be fast, but their food is one of the worst. Its too bad because I remember liking Wendy's years ago. Bring the old food back.


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