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    The Drive-Thru Performance Study

  • Comparing performance among the industry’s dayparts and menu categories.

    Wendy’s has begun testing mobile ordering in stores, including in the drive thru, in select cities.

    Wendy’s trailblazed the late-night daypart back in 2001—well ahead of most competitors—and now the brand is hoping to court the afternoon-snack customer with equal success. The chain introduced items like the Loaded French Fries, which Wendy’s director of brand communications Frank Vamos says could be eaten as a meal or shared as a snack.

    This year, the afternoon snack slightly beat out the other dayparts in terms of accuracy (90.3 percent accurate on average), but like late night, it slowed down considerably, going from an average service time of 173.39 to 217.81 seconds. Again, Baker says the newer data seem more realistic given that operators still do not see the crush of cars in the queue at nontraditional hours.

    Beyond the dissolution of standardized meal times, drive thru could undergo an even bigger shift in the near future as technological advances such as mobile payment and ordering become mainstream.

    “Whether it’s order-confirmation boards or whether its mobile, I think everybody—if they’re going to compete in the coming years in quick service—has to embrace technology,” Krystal’s Clough says. “There are a lot of things that are out there that can really help not only with accuracy, but also with service.”

    Other operators express similar interest in exploring these new tools; some have even started putting platforms to the test.

    Already the Starbucks App allows customers to pay with their smartphones inside stores or in the drive thru. Last December, the company launched a pilot program of its Mobile Order & Pay platform in Portland, Oregon, and it has since expanded to more than 3,400 stores nationwide. Given Starbucks’ swift rollout of its digital initiatives, mobile ordering could soon follow.

    Wendy’s is also making strides in the mobile arena. In 2012, the brand introduced the My Wendy’s app and later built in mobile payment capabilities. It is now testing mobile ordering in a few cities, including Columbus, Ohio, and Phoenix. The mobile payment app works both in the dining room and the drive thru.

    “Once a customer has placed an order via the Wendy’s app, the restaurant can detect when that customer has arrived through bluetooth beacons. That signal tells the crew to start making the order so the customer receives it fresh,” Vamos says. “At the pickup window, it pushes your order to the screen automatically when you pull up to order, letting you skip that part of the process.”

    Baker says the adoption of mobile payment might end up being reminiscent of another payment shift: the acceptance of credit cards at the drive thru. In the first year, no more than 5–10 percent of quick serves accepted electronic payment, but it quickly ramped up to nearly 100 percent in the span of a few years, he adds.

    Regardless of menu category, daypart, and emerging technologies, Baker says, a streamlined process remains one of the most vital components to a successful drive thru.

    “If your process is right, it shouldn’t matter when you are applying the process,” he says. “If your process is to get orders accurate and out the door—whether that process occurs at lunch, breakfast, snack, or late night—you should typically get the same result.”



    Following last year's shift to studying dayparts and menu categories rather than individual brands, this year we expandedthe research to 29 brands and dropped the bone-in chicken category in favor of ethnic restaurants. Note that the brands audited for the menu categories were researched during all dayparts except for breakfast, while breakfast included the below brands


    BURGER: Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, In-N-Out Burger, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, Krystal, McDonald’s, Wendy’s

    ETHINIC: Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, Fazoli’s, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Taco John’s

    SANDWICH: Arby’s, Bojangles’, Chick-fil-A, Church’s Chicken, Jimmy John’s, KFC, Panera Bread, Popeyes, Schlotzsky’s Deli, Steak Escape, Subway, Tim Hortons


    BREAKFAST: Bojangles’, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hardee’s, Krystal, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Tim Hortons


    Data for the 2015 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study was collected and tabulated by Insula Research, a Mystery Researchers company. The Study included 29 chains and included data from 1,882 visits at 890 restaurants. In all cases where the same restaurant was visited more than once, it was done so during different dayparts. All data was collected during May, June, July, and August 2015.

    For the 2015 Study, restaurants were again segmented by menu, but those categories and the chains within changed somewhat from the 2014 Study. The burger category included Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, In-N-Out Burger, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, Krystal, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. The ethnic category included Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, Fazoli’s, Panda Express, Taco Bell, and Taco John’s. Lastly, the sandwich category included Arby’s, Bojangles’, Chick-fil-A, Church’s Chicken, Jimmy John’s, KFC, Panera Bread, Popeyes, Schlotzsky’s Deli, Steak Escape, Subway, and Tim Hortons. Additional chains were also included for a daypart analysis, which examines differences based on time of day of the visit—breakfast (5–10 a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), afternoon snack (2:30–4 p.m.), dinner (4–7 p.m.), and late night (7 p.m. to 3 a.m.). Dunkin’ Brands and Starbucks were included in the breakfast daypart analysis but not included in any of the above menu categories. The sample for each daypart was at least 350, and the sample for each menu segment included at least 500. No audits from the breakfast daypart segment were included in the category analysis.

    Upon each visit a trained data collection specialist surveyed the drive-thru lane and then entered the line as any other customer. Each order placed by our researchers consisted of one main item, one side item, and one beverage. A minor special request was also made with each order, such as beverage with no ice. Although two different speed-of-service times were recorded for each visit (one for the researchers’ order/experience and another from a randomly selected vehicle), all tables within this feature are related to the researchers’ own vehicle and experience only, as this was the controlled order. Service time was defined as the time from stopping at the order station to receipt of all items (including change). Additional data collected by each researcher included but was not limited to: order accuracy, drive thru and exterior appearance, speaker clarity, and customer service. All purchases were made using cash so as not to influence timing.