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.

“With more customers visiting our restaurants than ever before, we want them to know that they can continue to depend on McDonald’s to provide the everyday value and convenience they’ve come to expect every time they visit our restaurants,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Ashlee Yingling says.

Potential technology offerings for quick-service drive thrus continue to capture attention.

Some outlets have employed off-site order-taking companies. Although a costly feature, these remote-location employees are trained exhaustively at order taking, including upselling techniques and add-on sales. Others brands have worked to improve the layout and look of their menuboards with advanced technology. In fact, Wendy’s franchisee FourCrown opened an all-digital restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, reputed to be the first in the quick-serve arena. The store is highlighted by a three-panel outdoor LCD menuboard offering a vivid, engaging display.

Yet, technology certainly arrives with its limitations. 

Although customers, particularly of younger generations, have expressed a preference for touch-screen ordering, Subway’s trials of the amenity at its drive-thru outlets have produced mixed results.

“We feel that the customer loses out on the human interaction, especially since no two sandwiches are alike and because they are all made to order,” Winograd says.

Operators increasingly value curb appeal, including one quick serve that painted its curbs black to cover tire scrapings.

Olafsson says the ordering option that embraces customization and interactivity if not necessarily the drive-thru staple of speed is popular in theory but not reality. “These trials haven’t gone as well as hoped,” he says. “Not everybody using the drive thru is a tech-savvy teen raised in the computer age.”

Moving forward, many say enhanced service and the smart, strategic integration of technology in the drive-thru lane will differentiate brands and gain favor with consumers perhaps beyond even the food itself. In some cases, restaurants might pair high-tech features, such as touch-screens, with an option to order with personal interaction—a dual method that would have appeal for a wide variety of customers.

As QSR’s 2010 Drive-Thru Experience Study shows, customers want more and have expressed a clear desire to visit restaurants that better address their needs and expectations. Simply meeting the basics of speed and accuracy might do, but it is unlikely to advance the brand as the new restaurant age unfolds.

“At the minimum, the service experience will need to be just as distinctive as the food experience,” Bower says. “If there’s anything we’re learning about the drive thru these days, it’s just that.”


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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