It seems that all anyone in the restaurant industry can talk about these days is off-premises dining. From mobile-powered delivery to kiosk-driven takeout and all of the other increasingly accessible food occasions outside the four walls, off-premises is revolutionizing how guests interact with food businesses—and how those businesses design their customer experiences.
But off-premises is old hat for quick serves. After all, it’s technically been a key strategy for the industry for generations in the form of the drive thru. Most major quick serves report about 70 percent of their sales going out the drive-thru window, and that expertise gives them a leg up when it comes to staffing, packaging, expediency, and all of the other systems necessary for running a robust off-premises dining program.
Which isn’t to say they should turn their attention away from drive thru. The outdoor lane is just as important today to quick-service business as ever before—if not even more so. And as business grows, pressures on drive-thru performance, particularly accuracy and speed of service—two of the most critical drive-thru metrics—have gotten more intense.
“Over the last five years, everybody has seen, as traffic has increased in the drive thru, times have slowed down,” says Mike Grams, chief operating officer at Taco Bell. “Items per [transaction] has gone up almost a half item at Taco Bell in the last couple years, which is a great thing, but it also means something else has to be produced with every order.”
Average speed-of-service times—the time between the customer placing his or her order and then receiving it—have largely slowed across the board among the major players. This year’s brands clocked in at an average of 234 seconds, compared with about 225 seconds last year. Back in 2003, the year Wendy’s scored an all-time Drive-Thru Study best of 116 seconds, the national average was about 190 seconds.
Operators are managing this uptick in business the best they can; order accuracy has improved over time, and this year’s 89.7 percent measurement is just a hair above last year’s 89.4 percent. All say that their No. 1 task in the drive thru is ensuring top-notch accuracy, customer experience, and, to the best of their abilities, speed of service. And the tools they have on hand to do so continue to evolve and improve with new technological advancements. Tablets have allowed for efficient line-busting; wireless communications systems have made back-and-forth with the customer more effortless; and LED menuboards have given guests clearer ideas of what they might want to order.