After two years exploring how certain dayparts and menu categories shaped the drive-thru experience, the QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study returned this year, breaking down the data by chain, researching 11 quick serves — and, for the first time ever, four fast casuals — to find out where they land when it comes to critical drive-thru metrics.
In this article, I’ll explore excerpts from key industry insiders, as they interpret the most important findings from the study, including speed-of-service, order accuracy, customer service, and best practices in the drive-thru and fast casual business, shared by real, successful operators.
Accurate is better than fast, as times increase alongside customer satisfaction
One interesting finding from the study was the increase in wait and service times. In past years, the total target time expectation was 210 seconds, while this study uncovered that time soaring to 286.65 seconds. Certainly, the inclusion of fast casual was influential, but more telling is the very apparent shift to order accuracy, and the underlying technologies that provide drive-thrus with improved performance visibility and best practices, enabling quick service and fast casual restaurants to achieve real improvements.
Wait times by brand
(in line up→order placement)
Service times by brand
(order placed → food delivered)
Carl’s Jr. @ 22.30 seconds
Wendy’s @ 169.11 seconds
Chick-fil-A @ 155.33 seconds
Starbucks @ 299.80 seconds
Total average time = 286.65
Let’s hear what key industry insiders had to say about the study results.
What does the future hold for the QSR space?
SeeLevel HX (see bio below)
Steven: “In order to really remain profitable and really to grow, capitalizing on every transaction whether it’s an upsell or a suggestive sell, the use of technology through order confirmation boards or really making sure that each transaction is accurate is also proving that this is part of what the future holds. We recommend that our operators make very wise capital investments, especially in technology. There’s new solutions that have been emerging in the marketplace that really help throughput, help order accuracy, [and] help ensure that each location is able to really capitalize on that narrow window of time where they’re looking to make a profit.”
Food News Media (see bio below)
Sam: “Focus on order accuracy, first and foremost. A lot of operators will tell you that a customer leaving the lot with an incorrect order is a much worse situation than a customer going through a slow drive-thru. We’re also seeing that several chains are investing in equipment that can really improve the efficiency of the drive-thru. That does probably lead to some improvements in speed-of-service, but it really seems that a lot of this is also focused on getting the order right, with Order Confirmation boards or improved speaker boxes – these things seem to really be helping the order accuracy piece, so that, on the whole, customers will not have to drive off the lot with inaccurate orders.”
Vice President of Brand and Operations Integration
Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. (see bio below)
Rick: “[In regards to technology] Arby’s had not really played out, as many of the other competitors on the call have done, around order confirmation boards, and what we’ve come to learn is that the ability to connect with the guest, first at the menu board and then again at the pick-up window is critically important. The value of not only being able to repeat the order, but to have the guest confirm the order in an order confirmation environment is key. It’s our belief that we can deliver a level of service that’s equal to or better than the fast-casual dining experience…”
What’s your take on what smaller, emerging brands care most about?
Sam: “For emerging chains, customer service has to be number one. When we look across the data points we see that customer service must play an important role in that premium experience, but I would challenge them to focus on the speed and the accuracy as well, especially the order accuracy. Speed, customers will wait for, especially if they understand when they go to a fast casual they’re going to get something higher quality. Order accuracy, however, that’s got to fall in that premium experience touch-point, so, if you go to a fast casual you’re going to be willing to wait, but again you’re going to be very disappointed if you get an inaccurate order, because you thought that this would maybe be a premium experience and then the inaccurate order made it not so. So, I would suggest that focusing on speed of service and order accuracy has got to be a point for fast casuals moving into the future, if they’re going to want to be able to step up to the quick serves that have been in this industry for so long.”
Steven Maskell, Partner, SeeLevel HX
Steven’s been in the mystery shopping and customer experience management industry for 20 years. As one of the leaders of Shop’n Chek Worldwide, Steven focused on growing the company into a global organization. After some time with IKEA helping a specialty division grow, Steven returned to Customer Experience Management as GfK’s North American lead on Customer Experience Management. After winning and managing some of the industry’s largest programs, Steven took his experience and branched out into consulting. He’s now delighted to be the clients’ advocate within SeeLevel, where his responsibilities include helping new organizations improve their Human Experience.
Sam Oches, Editorial Director, Food News Media
Sam Oches is editorial director of Food News Media, publisher of QSR and FSR magazines and editor of QSR magazine. As an expert in foodservice trends, his insights have been shared in national media outlets such as the New York Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, and CNBC.
Rick Gestring, Vice President, Arby’s Restaurant Group
Rick Gestring is the vice president of brand and operations integration for Arby’s Restaurant Group, where he is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the Arby’s brand in all aspects of the guest experience and restaurant operations. Prior to Arby’s he held leadership positions at a variety of food service brands.
Insights uncovered in this year’s QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study are clear. Leveraging technological advances in Order Confirmation Systems (OCS) is the key to increasing order accuracy, improving customer satisfaction, and engendering long-term loyalty. I’ve personally seen the real-world benefits of order confirmation at McDonald’s restaurants across the U.S. BTW – McDonald’s calls them Customer Order Displays (COD). McDonald’s quick service restaurants are highly focused on getting it right for the customer, and order confirmation has been a huge part of their recent turnaround.
Delphi Display Systems
Delphi has been a market leader in digital display solutions since 1990, in use globally by most major quick service restaurants. Order Confirmation solutions are just one part of Delphi’s all-encompassing, end-to-end drive-thru offering, including outdoor and indoor digital menu boards, headset communications, and vehicle timer solutions.