Special Report | October 2011 | By Sam Oches

QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study

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“Your presell board moves them in the direction you want to improve, either the profitability or add-ons, and by the time they get to the third step—they get there to order—you’ve led them where you want them. Ideally, that’s where we see it.”

The Bells and Whistles

One of the newest features of the drive-thru industry is the order-confirmation board. Once employed by a select few operators, the order-confirmation board has made major inroads into the quick-service industry. McDonald’s, in fact, has order-confirmation boards in place in 96.7 percent of its units, according to the Drive-Thru Performance Study.

But not every member of the benchmark group has gone all in with the boards. Chick-fil-A has order-confirmation boards in place in only 8.6 percent of its units. Del Taco, meanwhile, has the boards in 20.8 percent of its stores, while Taco Bell has them in 46.8

Baker says low confirmation-board penetration could reflect a brand’s faith in its customer service. He points to Chick-fil-A, which is known for the time it commits to teaching customer service.

“In their case they probably feel like they can have a little greater influence on the person who’s actually delivering the food for them at the drive-thru window, and probably have focused a little bit more energy on working with that group on how to interact with the people and on what to say and on how to check the order,” he says.

Still, many members of the benchmark group say the boards are critical components to the industry moving into the future.

“The confirmation board, to me, is one of the single biggest and best innovations that I think has been developed for drive thrus,” Nelson says. “I think it builds confidence that they’re more likely to get their orders right.” Krystal has confirmation boards in place in 50 percent of its units.

Once order-confirmation boards are in place, operators must ask themselves what they wish to have displayed on the screen.

Jeff Bonner is vice president of operations and training at Culver’s. The Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin–based brand is not a member of the benchmark group, as its made-to-order format sets it apart from typical quick serves. But in 2008, the only year it was researched for the drive-thru study, it came in second place in order accuracy, with 95.2 percent of its orders served correctly.

Bonner says today’s technology allows quick serves to dress up their order-confirmation boards to be as visually appealing as possible, which he says Culver’s explored when the company started to roll out the technology.

“Through our research, when we first started implementing [order-confirmation boards], we put all the bells and whistles on there—the graphics, the words, trying to sell you on something,” Bonner says.

“We were more geared toward the marketing and merchandising element more so than the order confirmation.

“Since then, we have evolved; in the last couple of years, we have done some research with our guests and looked at the industry-wide research. They say, ‘Hey, all I’m really interested in is my order getting made right.’ So we kind of backed off of that mindset and put more emphasis toward the visual aid of confirming their orders more so than merchandising.”

Harkins says Taco Bell is in the same boat. Instead of using the order-confirmation board to do the selling, he says the company uses boards that are appealing to customers but still keep distractions to a minimum.

“We’re utilizing it to make sure we can shorten the functional part of the experience for the customer and make it more of the experiential part of having the service champion and our people and our restaurants and their personalities shine,” he says.

“We’re not trying to have the piece of equipment or POP necessarily sell our product, we’re trying to have the engagement of the employee sell our product.”

Still, Harkins says Taco Bell keeps an open mind regarding new technologies.

“If there’s something out there that matches our operating platform that can increase the customer experience,” he says, “we’ll be looking at it.”

Who Are the Winners?

Harkins’ sentiment may say the most about this year’s benchmark group—if a specific component of the drive thru matches their operating platform, chances are these top brands will invest in making themselves the best at it.

And these seven brands have certainly managed to become the best at much of the drive-thru experience.

Baker says that aside from customer service, there were “very few glaring weaknesses” from the benchmark group studied this year.

“Looking at the overall performance, it does affirm that it is a very, very strong group,” Baker says.

“I would encourage all other chains that are interested to benchmark against these metrics that we’ve done with this group. They’ve consistently demonstrated that they are ahead of the class.”

Read the Methodology



What happened to Whataburger? They've been part of the study for years.Also, if I'm reading this right, CFA was the best in Order Accuracy, which means 97% of the time they make the sandwich right. Which means 3% of the time they forget either the chicken or one of the two slices of pickle?

Order accuracy isn't just about forgetting the cheese or a couple of pickles. Order accuracy is about getting the entire order right also meaning the drive-thru could confuse orders and hand out someone's number 2 to someone else who ordered a number 1 or forget a box of nuggets or hand out the wrong drinks. Let's completely educate ourselves about something before we make a smart-ass comment about it, yeah?

Pal's in East Tennessee has won the Malcom Baldridge award for management excellence (the first restaurant chain to do so), and is a drive-thru only with 23 restaurants in the chain. It is small, but there order accuracy over doubles any of these numbers, as well as their speed (18 seconds per car).

I like Krystal's approach. A $2 dollar raise after certification seems to be a solid way to ensure their commitment.

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

I feel bullied. Interrupted. Annoyed. I can't get my order out without hearing "are pickles and onions on that ok?" before I tell the person "ketchup only". These employees on are automatic like annoying robots who are programmed to interrupt and rush you without listening. My experience today made me so angry that I felt like accepting the food I had paid for and dropping it on the ground and saying that wasn't what I ordered and you bullied me into it. During trying to rush my order out of my mouth and avoid pauses, she interrupted and I actually said to her, "No, you need to listen!". I've had to ask people to just listen because I know what I want and I have kids that are naturally picky. It's frustrating. Maybe the visual cues are missing. Maybe they need to get off of automatic. Maybe they need a speaker system that will only allow one way traffic and light up when the customer is still talking. Maybe they need systems that are easily customized and changed even though there are several items in the order. Soooo Frustrated.

Having worked at mcdonalds it is a script on ordertaking on which theyu have you follow.first it starts with a greeting,then you taking your order.We are trained to interrupt you so that we could have your order taken during a certain timeframe.Upon saying that while you are order everything that is being rung up is also made,that is why the order taker is asking questions before you go on to ordering more things.this is to help the grill people make your food correclty in a timely manner.MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY WORKING THEIR BEFORE YOU COMPLAIN!You and most people dont understand the pressure we have to deal with and also the mean rude customers


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