Special Report | October 2013 | By Sam Oches

The Drive-Thru Performance Study

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Fast food drive thrus are slowing down as consumers demand premium menus.
Chick-fil-A averages a whopping 6.09 cars in its drive thru at any given time. chick-fil-a / Stanley Leary

Moraitakis says this same philosophy encourages Chick-fil-A crewmembers to design the drive-thru experience around each customer. He says employees are trained to listen for clues in each customer’s voice; if she sounds rushed and knows precisely what she wants, she’s probably in a hurry and should be accommodated. If the customer sounds like he’s in a playful mood, the crew is given the license to be playful back. And if it’s a familiar voice, employees are encouraged to recognize the regulars.

That customer-service component has become a well-known signature at Chick-fil-A, and other benchmark brands are trying to replicate the model to similarly boost the overall drive-thru experience.

At Taco John’s, for example, a major focus in the coming year is on the guest interaction in the drive thru, Gianguzzo says. “We don’t want our guests to feel rushed, but we want to enhance their meal. So if there is a suggestive selling opportunity to complete a meal, we obviously want to do that,” he says. “At the same time, we don’t want to try to sell them 10 things either. All of a sudden we sound like a used car salesman trying to add on everything. So we want that experience to be pleasant, we want it to be genuine. We don’t want [employees] to sound like a robot where they’re saying the same thing to every single guest. And we want those pleasantries.” (For more on customer service in the drive thru, click here.)

Along with improved customer service, menuboards and signage in the drive-thru lane can help streamline the process by making the purchase decision easier for customers, the benchmark brands say. Wendy’s, for one, is working in cleaner, better-organized menuboards with more pictures as part of its broader store remodeling, Lynch says.

Various other drive-thru strategies are being tested and employed at quick serves across the country: digital menuboards, dual drive-thru lanes, remote order takers during rush. And operators continue to keep one eye on the future as they roll out affordable and effective technologies.

“I think you’re going to see more restaurant chains experimenting with mobile payments off your mobile device,” Lynch says. “Conceivably, you could load up your favorite meal into your app and when you get to the restaurant at the order station, you just flash your app and all of a sudden, boom, your order is delivered.”

How that will evolve speed of service in the drive thru remains to be seen.



The 2013 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study was produced and conducted by Insula Research and QSR magazine. This research was supported by sponsors Archon Development (Prophet), Unistructures Inc., R.F. Technologies Inc., and Delphi Display Systems.

The primary objective for this study was to determine the leading restaurant chains in several categories of drive-thru operation. Categories measured in the study include but are not limited to: service time, order accuracy, suggestive sell incidence, exterior appearance, speaker clarity, menuboard appearance, and availability of order-confirmation boards.

Data for the study was collected during the months of April, May, June, and July 2013. Restaurants were visited between the lunch hours of 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., and between the dinner hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Any given restaurant could be visited a maximum of twice for this research—once during the lunch period and again during the dinner period. A total of 1,855 service times were collected based on a controlled order of main item, side item, and beverage, and another 1,829 were collected based on a randomly selected vehicle that entered the line while the researcher was on site (note: the published tables only reflect the researchers’ own journey through the drive thru). The study included assessments from restaurants in 40 different states, and included seven different quick-service restaurant chains. Breakdown of the total number of researched units per brand are as follows: 299 Burger King units, 299 Chick-fil-A units, 200 Krystal units, 317 McDonald’s units, 308 Taco Bell units, 107 Taco John’s units, and 325 Wendy’s units.

Speed was measured in two different time segments. Those segments were: wait time, or the time from when the test vehicle enters the line to when the vehicle stops at the order station (speaker); and service time, or the time from when the vehicle stops at the order station to when the entire order is received, including change.

Accuracy percentages were based on the percentage of orders that were received by researchers exactly as placed. The objective was to determine which chain was most accurate. During each visit, the researcher ordered a main item, a side item, and a drink. One special request was made for each order. For example, a field researcher could order a fountain drink with no ice. After receiving the order, all food and drink items were checked for complete accuracy. Any food or drink item received that was not exactly as ordered was listed as inaccurate. Similarly, orders were considered inaccurate if a requested condiment was not received, if the order failed to contain at least one napkin or one straw, or if the cashier gave incorrect change.

A sample size was selected for each chain based on the total number of drive-thru units each chain operates. Analysis was performed to set sample sizes in such a manner as to result in approximately the same margin of error for each chain included in the study.




The drive-thru times are false. At a few different fast food places, I've watched clerks and managers drive their cars through the drive-thru multiple times, only stopping for a couple of seconds at the window. This skews the numbers in their favor and looks good on paper. You can't believe anything anymore. Honesty and integrity are in short supply and not often rewarded.

A simple solution: Get people off their fat butts and into the stores. When drive throughs first started, stores would put drive through orders ahead of counter orders, somehow thinking that lazy people deserved preferential treatment. But computer ordering, showing on a screen the sequence for orders, has essentially eliminated this. Which is good.
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McDonalds is the worst in my opinion in both speed and quality. What I don't get about them is that many times there are a dozen employees milling around in their kitchen and behind the counter with only a few customers yet the orders are consistently slow, cold and often wrong. Don't even think about getting a "thank you" from their ill-trained employees. I now only go there when there is nothing else or if the person I'm traveling with insists. I despise McDonalds.

There are some great McDonald's in the world. There are I believe 14000 in just USA. more people visit them than the rest of QSR put together. I have hardly ever had any problems with them being nice. But then I goo out of my way yo be polite to them. Some people treats them with such disrespect and then what do they expect.My daughter worked there and she would come home and would ash why some of the customers are so horrible to them. She would say only if the could see how hard the staff work to serve them. Just saying..

Its not that easy to work in the kitchen, if your were in their shoes you will know how it feel! not easy! No one in this world is perfect, but some few people are !

Del taco workers are the best, google search "del taco conversation" #1 youtube result, she was willing and happy :) deff my favorite

Some Del taco "California " like Los Angeles or Orange county have bad customer service! Sometime they don't have dinner room clean or restroom !

um.....I run a qsr and having a physical car at the window does not affect service times at all. we dont cheat the times, but if we wanted to we would just ring up an order and promo it to clear it from the register. that would give it a "fast" time on the report. there doesn't need to be an actual car there. the recorded time is based solely on when the order is rang up, and when it gets cleared off the monitor. Having a car at the window doesn't affect it at all.

I go to various drive-thru restaurants four or five times per week. The particular store/crew seems to make more difference than the brand. By and large they are all friendly, fast, and accurate.

I used to be a drivethru cashier at a McDonalds just north of Charlotte. Most of the time, esp. atbreakfast, the line never came to a full stop. If it did, horns would blow.Then came a morediverse menu and cell phones. The avg. cell phone holder did not have money in handand was often oblivious that they needed to pay for their order. I would have been firedback then if a customer spent 3 minutes at the drivethru. In that "era" we also had timeto relate to a repeat customer by name and build rapport. In my opinion, McDonalds cansimplify the menu to under 6 items but as long as a customer is on a cellphone, the waitwill not measurably be reduced.

Some McDonalds Don't have good customers service, but some McDonalds have GOOD CUSTOMERS SERVICE (:. But when I'm about to receive my order I always ask for the manger and ill give them my feed back how was my service. All depends who is charge of their shift, how they train there employees. How to give good customer service. ONE the that I hate when your done making order , they always say "ANYTHING ELSE " !!!!!!!!! They should offer you Apple pie, sundae or cookies (: That all I have to say .

What's MOST amazing about this article -- and even more so, about the fact that a regular study is done -- is that the SLOW times amount to a matter of MINUTES! Less than FIVE MINUTES! And yet, people -- few, if any, of them brain surgeons or even fire fighters -- complain about SLOW SERVICE. Which drives the hurryhurryhurry mentality that created the new, 21st century "drive-thru" wherein most people are asked to pull up and park while the fast food place finishes the order. This insane -- I'm in a hurry (though I may not know why) -- attitude is seen in the way people drive, treat each other (someone below, likely NOT a brain surgeon with a life on his or her hands, complained about courtesy at drive-through windows) 'cause they don't have time to stop and smell roses, much less be polite -- is only getting worse in our tech-heavy society. Drive-through service -- from fast food restaurants to liquor to marriages -- are a symptom of a society that is so self-involved it has forgotten the most important things in life.Hint: the "drive-thru" time at your local fast food restaurant ain't one of them.Take the time to pick up FASTER by James Gleick and educate yourselves (ya crazy, hurry up and wait maroons)!

That was very well said...I hate when people tell the person that is waiting on them that "they are in a hurry" because my comment to them would be "you should have thought of that a little sooner". Also, I think you may have used the wrong word at the end of your post you really meant "Moron's instead of Maroon's" right!

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