Recent consumer data on the most important factors in drive-thru experiences.

Consumers, regardless of age, show a strong preference for ordering their fast food at the drive thru. In fact, the drive-thru was the top-ranked method for ordering from a fast food restaurant across all age groups, with only a seven percent difference when comparing those aged under 45 or over 45 years of age. Thirty-seven percent of the younger cohort report preferring the drive-thru over all other ordering modes, compared to 44 percent for those aged over 45, according to Intouch Insight’s recent QSR tech survey.

Intouch Insight is a CX solutions provider known for having its fingers on the pulse of consumer perceptions and brand execution. In some of its most recent surveys, there are surprising findings on what customers of every generation look for and what drive thrus need to succeed in the ever-evolving quick-service industry. Spoiler alert, it’s not just technology making an impact.

Lighting and Safety

Surprisingly, Gen Z’s top priorities for fast-food restaurants were a well-maintained exterior and easy access to parking lots. This is especially important for restaurants, as this is one factor where generations’ opinions diverge dramatically. 

Lighting may seem like small details but they make a difference between gaining or losing business. Thirty-six percent of respondents reported they would leave fast-food restaurants if the drive-thru had poor lighting and would opt to eat at a competitor’s restaurant, according to Intouch Insight. When considering important drive-thru factors, lighting is major for the comfort and safety of customers. Burned-out bulbs may cost restaurants more considering 48 percent of respondents in the survey reported they would leave a restaurant if the parking lot had poor lighting.


Knowing where customers want to see signage is vital to the flow of drive thrus and restaurants, especially considering there are more modes of ordering than ever before. Customers don’t want to guess where they should be to order or pick up their food. They can easily become frustrated with service if the next step is unclear. 

With consumer insights, it’s easy to know where to put signage to be most effective for customers and restaurants. This is one of many reasons why it is important to use data and surveys to analyze how customers want their experiences to be built. 

According to Intouch Insight, 64 percent of respondents prefer drive-thru pickup order signage on a canopy rather than the ground. The devil is in the details, and the few seconds a customer spends identifying where they need to go to receive their order is key to ensuring a successful and happy experience.

Personalization at the Drive Thru

Personalization may feel like a major buzzword, but to drive customer loyalty, quick-service restaurants need to continue to find ways to engage with customers on a personal level, even in the drive-thru. When asked whether or not they had experienced personalization in the drive-thru, 70 percent of respondents reported having experienced some form of personalization. 

Whether the personalization was an employee outside greeting, taking orders, delivering food, or redeeming loyalty points digitally while in the drive thru, those who did experience personalization resoundingly enjoyed the experience, at 93 percent, according to Intouch Insight. 

One of the trends Intouch has been tracking is the adoption of personalized menu boards. This year, 18 percent of respondents report having experienced personalized menu recommendations, up eleven percent over 2023, further reinforcing the continued drive-thru innovation and technology advancements. 

“The ideal drive thru, meets the needs of the customer,” says Laura Livers, chief revenue officer at Intouch Insight. “Speed and accuracy are vital components, but customers also want a pleasant, personal experience.”  Livers points out a key piece here, personalization at the drive thru may come down to what technology a consumer can use and interact with. From loyalty programs to personalized menu recommendations, when executed properly, technology can deliver the personalization customers didn’t even know they wanted.

Follow Through is What Matters

Using the most updated technology leads to greater order accuracy and customer satisfaction. However, Livers warns that if the technology is not placed with consideration and follow-through for the customer experience, it won’t be successful. 

“We’ve got all of these cool tech things going on, but if operators don’t execute it properly and pay attention to the basics, then it doesn’t matter,” Livers says. “From what we can see in our studies, customers are appreciating new features like dedicated mobile-order drive thru pickup lanes. But, if your drive thru uses a Y-lane design, funneling mobile pickup customers into the same lane as everyone else, you’ve potentially defeated the purpose.” 

Innovation has prompted better experiences nearly across the board, but that does not mean operators can lose sight of basic factors like friendliness, speed, and quality.  “Even if a restaurant has the coolest drive-thru technology, if it’s raining and they don’t have a canopy, and the rain is pouring into the customer’s car, that is what that customer will remember,” Livers says.

How to Know It’s Working

While it would be nice to say operators must follow steps A, B, and C to set up the perfect, most lucrative drive-thru, it is much more complicated. Many factors, from lighting to signage and a friendly experience, are universal. However, there is no way to generalize every drive-thru experience. 

To design the perfect drive thru, the key is to measure, analyze, make adjustments, and retest. Using the combination of mystery shopping data alongside solicited or unsolicited customer feedback, you can get a real understanding of the overall customer experience. Livers puts it in perspective: “If you’re going to innovate and try new technology, you need to understand whether or not your innovations are being executed to plan, and if those plans are meeting your customers’ expectations.”

To see how data can unlock customer experiences at your restaurant, visit Intouch Insight’s website.

By Ya’el McLoud

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