Prior to the pandemic, most quick-service brands achieved about 70 percent of sales at the drive-thru window, but the number climbed to north of 90 percent for parts of 2020.
But this surge of drive-thru sales has also exposed inefficiencies in the space. Paul Falkenbach, vice president of sales and marketing at National Sign Systems—a drive-thru solutions company that has worked with 40 of the top 50 quick-service brands—says operators shouldn’t assume current traffic and revenue can’t be topped.
“I still don’t think operators are paying enough attention to their drive thrus,” Falkenbach says. “If you’re using older technologies, you’re really missing an opportunity to help your brand grow. I think now—as the chaos of the past year and a half has settled down a bit—is a great time to really focus on revitalizing the drive thru and start treating it as what it is: A significant customer-facing space that affects everyone’s perception of your brand.”
Here’s a look at four areas where Falkenbach believes brands can step their game up and futureproof drive-thru sales.
While digital menuboards have typically been seen as more expensive than their static counterparts, the ability to instantaneously change the menu, as well as gather data and suggestively sell, makes the technology worth investing in, Falkenbach says. Being able to control pricing across an entire footprint is especially vital to brands battling inflation in the supply chain. In this way, an investment in digital signage can cut out expenses like the constant need to reprint static menus, and that will save brands money in the long run. Plus, Falkenbach adds, the cost of digital signage has reached the point where it's affordable for most any brand.
Falkenbach is also high on digital signage for its ability to help communicate with customers before they reach an ordering point—he highly recommends that brands explore showcasing LTOs and other specials on pre-sell signage boards.
“Every brand has an opportunity to get more messaging done upstream,” Falkenbach says. “If a customer is four or five cars away from ordering, give them something to think about. This accomplishes two things: it increases profits if you’re showing them enticing, higher ticket items, but it also increases your speed because more customers are going to have their mind made up by the time they order. That will cut seconds off of each customer’s journey.”
Brands also need to factor in all of the different reasons cars find themselves at the drive thru in 2021. There are third-party delivery drivers, and people looking for curbside pickup locations—things that were far less voluminous prior to the pandemic. For these reasons, the modern drive thru requires wayfinding solutions that can ensure customers know where they need to go to accomplish what they came to a restaurant for.
Wayfinding solutions might include directional signage, pavement markings, or cones communicating the proper pathway.
“I’m a firm believer that a wayfinding system is going to speed up service and increase sales,” Falkenbach says. “Let that customer know where the queue is and take advantage of the marketing opportunities along the way. Jack in the Box does that really well—every wall is an opportunity to communicate with the customer, and get your brand’s message across to them.”
Falkenbach has seen more and more brands retrofitting their drive thrus with canopies that help protect customers from the elements. He believes this is yet another opportunity to help create a branded experience and a welcoming environment that helps boost drive-thru satisfaction and return visits.
“At National Sign Systems we have the ability to create custom solutions for each brand,” Falkenbach says. “We don’t have just one canopy that we expect every brand to use. We have multiple styles to choose from to help create a uniquely branded drive-thru experience.”
One useful tool Falkenbach’s team recently rolled out to help brands start customizing the drive-thru experience is an interactive digital drive thru menuboard builder that affords an opportunity to design a dream drive thru and see how much it would cost. Brand leadership and operators can look at how canopies, digital signage, wayfinding solutions, communication systems, and other branding elements would all fit together.
Another area where National Sign Systems can help operators improve speed of service, accuracy, and customer satisfaction in the drive-thru space is with communication devices, from order confirmation boards to multi-channel headsets.
Falkenbach says his team is proud to manufacture all of its equipment and solutions at the National Sign Systems headquarters outside of Columbus, Ohio.
“We don’t outsource anything, which means we control our own quality and our quality is something to take a lot of pride in,” Falkenbach says. “We help brands get that consistency across locations, but also to build in unique components because we know that what works at a location in Texas might not work at a location in Ohio, or Florida. That’s where we really excel—helping brands of all sizes accomplish their drive-thru goals and needs.”
For more on upgrading your drive thru, visit the National Sign Systems website.