From entrance to exit, industry experts share ways restaurants can create a solid outdoor brand experience.

Sponsored by National Sign Systems.

Designing a drive thru is complex—not only must restaurants consider efficiency and traffic flow, but they also must deliver a comfortable, great brand experience without diners ever stepping inside the building. With an estimated 60–70 percent of sales going through the drive thru, along with an ever-growing quick-service competition, creating a satisfying, cohesive experience is crucial.

One of the barriers to creating an integrated experience is the availability of turn key services or “one stop” providers of all branding elements of the drive thru. Traditionally a general contractor would have to work with multiple suppliers, causing issues of discontinuity of colors and levels of quality. “All drive thru developments have come from different types of vendors,” says Paul Falkenbach, vice president of sales and marketing at National Sign Systems. “Some specialize in building materials, some specialize in specialty electronics. This has been frustrating for owners and builders.”

The best way to combat drive-thru design confusion, Falkenbach says, is to find vendors that can help lead the process from start to finish. “At National Sign Systems, we’re providing entire systems solutions with just one phone call. We outline the scope of the project and then drive to completion,” he says. “A lot of general contractors today are in a time crunch, so having one provider to manage a whole segment of their project is a lot easier.”

The National Sign Systems team shared a few lessons they have learned about how each element of the drive thru can come together for a consistent experience.

1. Directional and Road Signage

Directional signage helps drivers know where to enter the parking lot and where the drive-thru line forms. These are crucial signs that help eliminate confusion around the drive thru, as well as ensure that diners who are going inside the restaurant are not impacted by the drive-thru line.

“Traffic flow around the restaurant is one of the biggest factors in a satisfying experience, not only for customers in the drive thru, but also those going inside to eat,” Falkenbach says. “You should take into consideration the speed of the experience for the drive-thru users without effecting the comfort of those choosing to go inside the restaurant.”

2. Presell Signage

Presell signage can boost sales for specific items or limited-time offers, so placement is critical.

“You want to position a pre-sell sign in a position where the third or fourth cars in line can read it,” Falkenbach says. “That gives you enough time to register a message and get someone thinking about a limited-time offer before they order.”

Whenever possible, a pre-sell message can be placed to attract inside diners too. “Whatever is on display on the presell signage can influence other people on the property as they are going inside or are simply looking for a parking spot,” says Derick Riba, customer experience specialist and project manager at National Sign Systems.

3. Order Station

The order station is where the consumer must make a purchasing decision, but it’s also the first personal point of communication between consumers and the brand. Menuboard placement is critical.

“The order station menuboard should be in an easily accessible position and be clearly visible from the point of ordering,” Falkenbach says. Font selection and high-quality images should be included, and it should be close enough and large enough for diners to see their food options.

Riba says order confirmation is an important piece at this point in the experience. “Order confirmation gives customers instant feedback and comfort because they are able confirm that their orders are correct,” he says.

4. Canopies

Canopies help protect guests from the elements. “When you’re out looking for something to eat and it’s raining hard, weather is an important factor,” Falkenbach says. “Consumers have many choices. If a restaurant doesn’t care enough to install canopies for comfort and convenience, the customer is likely to keep driving until they find a location that does.”

Their placement is simple—put canopies wherever customers need to roll down the window, he says. “The point where customers are placing their orders and where they pay and pick up the order are the places where you should have a canopy.”

5. Exterior Signage

Other exterior signage can help drive-thru customers as well as those going inside the restaurant make decisions about what to order and results in increased sales. Falkenbach suggests using large banners or changeable wall signs on the building if local codes allow their use.

“We produce a product that is ideal for this application,” he says. “It consists of a snap frame, so it’s easy to swap graphics at any time for special orders or limited-time offers. We can also provide it with a thinner profile that includes LED lighting. Window clings are also always good idea.”

6. Thank You Signage

Signage at the end of the experience can help ensure that customers leave on a positive note. “The most successful signage that we have seen at the end of the experience is something that has a simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘See you tomorrow,’ inviting guests to come back.”

7. Branding

Ensuring that branding is consistent throughout the experience is equally as important as ensuring the guest enjoys the product that they purchased. Consistent branding helps build trust, which is a fundamental element establishing the emotional connection we all want with our customers. Branding isn’t limited to signs and menuboards—everything in the drive thru is fair game for a logo, a touch of color, or a brand message.

“Include branding in each element of the drive thru,” Riba says. “A logo on a menuboard, the branded color on a canopy pole, memorable content on wall signs or a logo on the ‘thank you’ or ‘exit’ sign—they all help solidify the experience with the customer. Branding should be consistent throughout every element on the property.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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