From the initial concept to ongoing enhancements and upgrades, good design and quality content is paramount to success.

Sponsored by STRATACACHE.

Drive thrus account for up to 70 percent of the average quick-serve restaurant’s sales, so getting the design right—whether during the initial construction phase or a remodel—is critical. Since the majority of customers will be using the drive thru, successful brands and franchisees aim to make the customer experience in that space as stress-free and easy to navigate as possible.

In particular, it’s important to identify the specific technology, equipment and content that will best serve the brand’s mission, and to find the right partner with the strategy and delivery capability to ensure project success.

While it may be tempting to dive right into the construction phase, designing a service area with new digital platforms in mind is critical to supporting a consistent and personalized drive-thru experience. Attention to detail during the planning phase can make subsequent marketing and service efforts more effective, while a strong focus on optimized messaging and personalization will ensure continued success.

“When we’re talking about innovation, it’s all about guest personalization,” says Cory Kiesel, director of business development at STRATACACHE. “If that’s part of a brand’s strategy, it’s important to talk about laying data cables and hardware sensors during the installation. We can add components at a later date if need be, but it’s best to plan early and often. A forward-thinking strategy needs to be considered before breaking ground.”

Here are the things that operators should keep top of mind during each phase of the drive-thru design process.

1. Physical Site Planning

“Planning is absolutely the most important phase of drive-thru design,” Kiesel says. “The most successful clients are the ones who spend more time in the planning phase by inviting cross-department stakeholders from marketing, IT, and operations to define both the physical layout and the goals of the digital drive-thru experience, as well as having them agree on timelines.”

Kiesel says that when presenting plans to municipalities, operators must clearly define their permitting plans prior to construction, especially when transitioning to an outdoor digital platform. Permitting is often the most time-consuming part of the design process and can take between four to eight weeks for a prime location. Since every city’s laws and regulations are different, brands vastly benefit from working with a company who has a proven track record of established relationships with municipalities across the nation and who can work at scale.

2. Content Planning

Content development should also be included as part of the planning phase and is equally important. You must have content ready by the time outdoor digital menu boards are installed. Keep in mind, the initial content does not have to be your final design, as speed of deployment and testing is the main reason for digital menu boards. That being said, you must have some sort of menu content before the physical hardware installation is complete. Your guests need something to order from.

Digital menus allow brands and restaurants to have more flexibility over their content.  For example, brands may distinguish digital menus by dayparts, highlight special and limited time offers (LTOs), and customize background colors on digital signage for optimized readability.

Branding opportunities begin before the customer pulls into the parking lot and should continue throughout the entire drive-thru experience: think pre-order boards featuring LTOs, order points with relevant suggestive sell items, branded colors, and confirmation displays located after the food pickup window and featuring the company logo. 

3. Installation

Once restaurant leaders have a strategic plan in place, both in terms of physical design and initial menu content, they will need to determine an end goal for how to implement those plans through the installation of digital displays and efficient confirmation systems.

It is also very important that all parties understand what is defined as “construction” versus “installation,” and which parties are responsible for each. Generally speaking, construction pertains to any activities related to underground, including power, data, and footings. Installation refers to physically mounting the hardware, connecting power and data to the units, and powering on or provisioning the units.

 During the installation phase, it is critical to coordinate between operators, vendors, and IT in order to limit drive thru closure times. While an experienced digital drive thru integrator should complete a single lane installation within four to six hours, it is wise to plan for up to eight hours as you may also need to download additional menu content.

4. Content Optimization

Improvements in the drive-thru sector are moving at light speed, so completing construction or a remodel is only the beginning. Data is king, and Kiesel says that clients who have made the decision to go with a well-thought-out digital marketing strategy and personalized suggestive selling are seeing a double-digit increase in sales.

Guests who opt-in to a brand’s terms and conditions for mobile ordering can offer deep insights into customer behavior. In exchange, the guest journey gets personalized and optimized.

“Relevant personalization is number one—look at millennial and Gen Z consumers,” Kiesel says. “Personal information is a form of currency. They like to communicate with a brand in a more intimate way and are willing to trade their information for offers or messaging that is relevant to them. From there it is up to the brand to decide the level of detail with which they wish to communicate with their guests.”

For example, drive-thru technology can detect when a customer’s phone is in the vicinity and know what that guest’s typical order is. This technology can then automatically offer promotions and LTOs, activate mobile coupons and promotions, and integrate social media—all valuable, real-time data.

The more data-driven insights operators are able to collect from customer opt-ins to loyalty programs and other information sharing applications, the more personalized the drive-thru experience becomes. In the improvement phase, brands can adapt their marketing strategies in response to what is and isn’t working and adjust how detailed the personalization is. Does a brand choose to promote more chicken or beef based on a guest’s profile, or do they actually recall the guest’s past orders?

Good drive thru design can make or break a customer’s experience, so getting it right is critical. As operators move from planning and content to installation and optimization phases, a key component is partnering with a company like STRATACACHE—a global marketing technology company that partners with major brands to deliver complete solutions for quick-service operators, including outdoor digital drive-thru equipment, customer experience strategy, and performance insights. The right products will help brands to leverage comprehensive data and in-store analytics, creating dynamic, fluid, and personalized marketing campaigns for customers.

By Davina van Buren

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