Special Report

The Drive-Thru Experience

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You’re fast, you’re accurate, but today’s consumers want more from your drive-th
image used with permission.

Del Taco’s accompanying drive-thru training program, meanwhile, is rooted in industrywide best practices, most important of which is combing the number of customer touches. Rather than guarantee up to seven interactions with the customer, Del Taco, which does 70 percent of its business with cars, has streamlined the process into three parts: greeting and money exchange; change, receipt and condiments; and food delivery.

“Combining parts of the conversation with the customer improves flow and maintains the personal connection while increasing speed,” Pope says.

Although only a fraction of Subway’s 25,000-plus restaurants have drive-thru service, franchisees of drive-thru locations have been quick to test ideas that enhance the in-car experience. 

A few Subway franchisees have designed their drive-thru areas so that four-wheeled customers can see their sandwich being made through a large picture window. Various Subway outlets are also trialing upgraded audio systems, clearer signage and lane striping, canopies to make menuboards easier to read in bright sunlight and to keep customers dry in bad weather, and the use of additional menu panels to replicate in-store signage.

Alongside the enhanced service, some compelling personality can go a long way as well.

Just outside of New Orleans in Kenner, Louisiana, Popeyes drive-thru crewmember Cynthia Carter has been a boon to business. “The singing drive-thru lady,” as the locals call her, shares upbeat serenades, first-name greetings, and well wishes with customers. The 22-year Popeyes employee’s cheerful demeanor has brought attention and customers to the Louisiana store and showcased the value in pairing improved service with fun-loving character.

Many industry veterans agree, that service sans personality and professionalism will only get a brand so far. According to QSR’s Drive-Thru Experience Study, a lack of professionalism stood only behind poor speaker quality as a top consumer turnoff.

As a part of Krystal’s master cashier program, operators seek to hire engaging personalities who carry a pleasant demeanor as well as attention to detail and professional competencies.

In today’s environment, incredible food and service just isn’t enough.”

“Our cashiers are the main point of contact drive-thru customers have with our restaurants, so we need to put our best foot forward,” says Howard Nelson, vice president of operations for Krystal. “It starts with hiring people who look and act the part.”

The strict, 12-week master-cashier training program ensures that Krystal’s drive-thru cashiers act upbeat and personable rather than robotic. Krystal views the program, which incentivizes employees with a $2/hour raise, as a way to invest in the right people to interact with its customers.

“When you greet and prompt a customer with enthusiasm, the customer feels that and it raises the bar,” Nelson says.

Enhancing the drive-thru experience doesn’t stop at personality and service, however. It extends to the physical environment as well.

Last year, Krystal instituted its Star cleaning program, a full maintenance program designed to give a more sparkling atmosphere to customers.

“In today’s environment, incredible food and service just isn’t enough. Pair it consistently with a clean atmosphere and some personality, and customers are more likely to become loyal,” Nelson says.

Olafsson has seen operators increasingly value curb appeal, including one quick serve that painted its curbs black to cover tire scrapings.

“That first impression has to be a positive one,” Olafsson says, adding that curb appeal inspires confidence and comfort in guests.

For success and growth to find any quick serve, technology must be a part of the equation, particularly given consumers’ increasingly tech-dominated world; the drive thru cannot escape that reality.

According to QSR’s Drive-Thru Experience Study, price confirmation and order verification stand as the most popular improvements restaurants can make with consumers, an improvement often tied to POS-connected digital signage. 

Many of Subway’s drive-thru outlets host order-confirmation boards, which allow customers to see precisely what they ordered and make changes accordingly. Order confirmation boards are quickly becoming one of the most rapid additions to drive-thru lanes across the country and among the most customer-appreciated features.

Along with order confirmation, new and remodeled McDonald’s outlets have incorporated the double drive-thru format, which allows the company to serve its customers with increased speed and efficiency. Yet, McDonald’s emphasis on improved drive-thru operations, which account for 65 percent of the brand’s U.S. business, runs deeper.

To ensure accuracy, McDonald’s added first-rate audio systems that deliver improved speaker clarity and also split the cash and presenter duties. To ensure ease of ordering, McDonald’s mounted brighter, cleaner, and more organized menuboards that showcase new and promotional items and installing an auotgretter, which offers consistency as it alerts each car to new offerings and promotions.


I hate the whole idea of drive throughs if they infringe upon the rights of pedestrians. My local Burger King shuts their dining room at 11:00 pm effectively closing at 10:30pm because it takes 30minutes with the best bus connections. I have no intention to buying a car for some corporate shortsightedness in a city like Boston. I should not have ride a cab for a triple snacker.Late night on my own 2 feet is having it my way

I have seen direct evidence of Popeye's "Service with Speed" initiative at the drive through window. The two Popeye's in my area (N.E. San Antonio, TX) take your order, then your money, THEN direct you to clear the service window and go park somewhere else to wait for your food to be hand carried out to you!! This happened once at busy location and I counted seven other patrons waiting in their cars as the Popeye's workers wandered around the parking lot trying to figure out which orders should go to which cars.Just yesterday, at the brand new location, I was ordered around the front even though there was no one in line behind me. Tired of waiting I came around again to the EMPTY service window, another car had been sent fifty feet forward of the window to wait for their order.I asked the clerk why she had sent us away, she had no answer. When I talked to the manager she provided two BS answers but admitted after I pressed that it was done to improve their order compleation metrics. When I asked if this learned in Popeye's training she said her district manager specifically told her to do this.Way to go Popeye's. If you can't service times you strive for, just manipulate the system and inconvenience your customrs to get the metrics you want!

How many drive thurs are there in the US?


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