It’s Not Your Imagination: Drive-Thru Service is Slowing Down

McDonald's Voice-Activated Drive-Thru

The fast food drive-thru is supposed to represent the height of American convenience. Just roll down your car window, awkwardly yell into a box, and your food will materialize soon enough. But if you’ve been waiting more impatiently than usual in the drive-thru lane recently, new data suggests it’s not just your imagination.

According to QSR Magazine’s annual Drive-Thru Performance Study, fast food customers are indeed experiencing longer wait times than they used to. Their data suggests that the average customer waits for 255 seconds between placing an order and picking up their food, an increase of 20 seconds compared to 2018.

What’s responsible for the slowdown? QSR cites factors like bloated and increasingly complex menus, as well as an increase in mobile orders that add a new, unresolved wrinkle to restaurant logistics. It could also just be that more people are using drive-thrus, causing a kitchen backup.


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Of course, not every fast food chain is created equal when it comes to drive-thru speed. Dunkin’, which has a relatively streamlined, breakfast-oriented menu, tops the speed rankings with an average time of under 217 seconds. The fact that they do much of their business during breakfast, which has an average speed of service of under 239 seconds, is also likely a factor.

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A is the biggest offender when it comes to slow drive-thru service, clocking in at nearly 323 seconds for the average order. That’s despite the introduction of employees who move up and down the line of cars with ipads to both take orders and process payments. Given Chick-fil-A’s immense popularity, it could just be that high demand is taking a toll.​​​​​​​

While technology can help to streamline the order process, improving drive-thru wait times might ultimately rest with speeding things up in the kitchen. For Arby’s, who clocked in at a below-average 263.46 seconds, getting that number down is about tightening things up behind the scenes. "We know we've got very complex menu items, and our guests are demanding those,” said Arby’s COO John Kelly. “So we have to make sure that the engine that we build in our kitchen is able to execute them in a very efficient way.”

So the next time you’re stuck waiting a while in your car, just know that the people who make big bucks selling you conveniently-available meat are aware of the slow service and want to fix it. And if you’re really fed up with it, just get out of your car and walk into the dang restaurant.  

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