As it often does, Chick-fil-A’s performance pulsed in this year’s QSR Drive-Thru Report. Generally, there are two metrics that flash with the third-highest earner in fast food—its customer service, and the average number of cars in line when mystery shoppers pull up.
On the first note, Chick-fil-A scored a “friendly” rating of 91 percent. No other brand (nine others were in the Report) registered above 79 percent. For cars in line—or how busy Chick-fil-A was—the chain came in at 3.41. The next was McDonald’s, at 2.01. Otherwise, only Wendy’ (1.50) counted more than a car in line.
Over the decades we’ve compiled the QSR Drive-Thru Report, Chick-fil-A’s unicorn-like performance has always required context. Concerning average total time, the brand clocked 436.09 seconds to finish bottom of the pack. But that’s become a yearly, expected outcome—and one that only swipes at reality. At 313.37 and 123.72 seconds for speed of service and average wait time, respectively, Chick-fil-A was last in each individual speed measure. Yet the reason isn’t that Chick-fil-A is slow, so to speak. It’s that Chick-fil-A’s experience takes longer because it’s packed with cars. And that’s a difficult base to level out when you’re trying to compare say, a brand with seven cars in line and one with two.
So what we did this year for the first time, in tandem with QSR’s partner Intouch Insight, was create an “adjusted total time” that took into account average cars in line. (Check chart below).
Essentially, what this illustrates is a world where drive-thrus are equally busy. Or phrased differently, it’s speed of service determined by how fast each car was moved versus a mystery shopper arriving and hitting go on a stopwatch. However viewed, Chick-fil-A’s freestanding drive-thrus ended 2022 with average-unit volumes of $8.676 million. The busy factor is undeniable, and perhaps why the company is plotting a four-lane design capable of serving 75 cars as once. Overall, the chain generated $18.814 billion in U.S. sales across 2022, as total revenue and income climbed from $4.32 billion to $6.37 billion.
It served 2.1 billion guests last year and some 527 million chicken sandwiches, while opening 138 locations, picking 100 new operators, and entering two fresh markets—Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
To get a deeper look at how the drive-thru continues to evolve, QSR caught up with Matt Abercrombie, senior director service and hospitality at Chick-fil-A, to learn more.
What are some ways Chick-fil-A has continued to innovate at the drive-thru in the past year? Last year, we spoke about the express lane and overall just how the brand was deploying hospitality at multiple points. How has this all progressed?
After a successful pilot, we’re continuing to expand our Mobile Thru drive-thru lanes to additional restaurant locations this fall (north of 300, as explained here). This shift helps customers who prefer to order ahead in our app to receive their meal more quickly in their preferred service channel, the drive-thru. We are also finding that many guests choose to switch between service channels depending on their daily needs. We are continuing to meet those needs through various channels, delivering a great customer experience no matter their preference. A good example of this will be in our new elevated drive-thru concept opening in 2024, featuring our first four lane drive-thru with dedicated Mobile Thru and traditional drive-thru lanes.
How has the brand taken employee engagement into the experience, from weather-ready clothing to technology that makes their jobs more seamless?
Taking care of our team members is top priority, so that they can in turn take good care of our guests. A face-to-face ordering experience can go a long way and offers team members the opportunity to make personal connections with our customers. We have implemented various tools and practices to protect Team Members’ wellbeing during that experience, including:
Our team member apparel line includes specialized options intended to help navigate various weather conditions such as heat, cold, and rain.
Drive-thru canopies have been installed in the majority of our drive-thru restaurants, and we have also introduced specially designed drive-thru enclosures that offer team members a sheltered space to rest and escape the elements.
We are also actively collaborating with operators to develop new solutions to further enhance order-taking with the elements in mind. One approach we’re exploring will aim to remove team members from the outdoor elements during specific weather conditions, while simultaneously meeting customer expectations for quick, friendly and efficient service.
What’s it been like balancing the return of in-store dining with continued elevated drive-thru?
We know that every service channel meets a unique need, and we are dedicated to delivering a great experience and signature Chick-fil-A hospitality for every guest, no matter how they choose to dine with us. Our off-premises channels, carryout, curbside, and delivery, are constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of our guests who prefer to dine offsite.
That said, in-restaurant dining remains the fullest expression of the Chick-fil-A experience and we are happy to see more and more guests return to our dining rooms. Our team members go the extra mile to create a welcoming experience that make our dining rooms more than a place to grab a meal, but a place where guests feel at home.
Dine-in mobile ordering is also a unique and convenient way for our guests to dine with us without waiting in line. This unique channel allows our customers to take the time they need to order and customize their meals, and we look forward to continuing to improve upon and personalize this experience as we refresh dine-in mobile ordering in 2024.