Optimizing Drive-Thru Performance: The Technology Ecosystem

With drive-thrus representing approximately 70 percent of revenue, it is critical quick service restaurants (QSRs) optimize drive-thru performance. QSRs are judged on their ability to deliver food quickly, maintain order accuracy and leave their customers with a desire to return. Insula Research and QSR magazine recently completed a Drive-Thru Performance Study that assessed six chains which have been the top fast food drive-thru performers over the lifetime of the study – Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Krystal, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s – plus a regional chain – Del Taco.

According to Brian Baker, president of Insula Research, it may appear that speed is not as important for people going through the drive-thru based on recent consumer research; however, Baker says “speed is very important – it’s just now the bar has been raised for our expectations.” Customers now expect speed along with superior customer service. All benchmark brands commented they are working to improve speed as well as drive-thru efficiencies in order to free up time for employees and allow them to more personally engage with customers. Below, we examine the drive-thru process and identify four technology categories that impact drive-thru performance.

Outdoor digital signage

Once a customer enters the drive-thru, the first point of contact between the QSR and the customer is the outside menu board. It is here that customers ultimately decide what and how much they will order. “Most guests read the board even if they have a preconceived notion of what they want to order,” says Kimberly Schwank, senior marketing manager at the Coca-Cola Company. Therefore, top QSRs should take advantage of this opportunity by engaging customers with displays that are easy to read even in broad daylight. Additionally, QSRs should install durable, reliable displays that can withstand the elements – a display with an IP66 rating is ideal.

The speed at which customers make order decisions is greatly increased when menu boards have an organized and strategic design layout.  QSRs have adopted digital menu boards, which allow managers to control and change multiple menu screens at multiple locations.  This gives managers the flexibility to strategically customize menu boards and to incorporate daily menu changes, such as price adjustments, seasonal items, top sellers, as well as adhere to the new federal law requiring QSRs to label calorie information by each food item, without having to constantly reprint new boards.

Drive-thru communication systems

After customers have reviewed the menu board, it is time for them to place their order via a drive-thru communications system. Ensuring excellent sound quality and reception is imperative; not only will poor speaker quality deter customers from returning, but it also severely decreases order accuracy and speed. In fact, according to Sullivison.com, noise-reduction technology can improve speed by 12 seconds per car and improve order accuracy by 40 percent. QSR chains should consider drive-thru communication systems that provide the clearest-level of communication between the order taker and the customer and offer easy and reliable use for employees.

Handhelds for Line Busting

Southern California chain Del Taco has implemented a new drive-thru technology trend, line busting. In order to have food ready when cars arrive, Del Taco stations an employee outside with a handheld tablet to take orders regardless of drive-thru traffic. This strategy gets orders into the kitchen quicker and has cut window time down as much as 25 seconds. These tablets allow employees to take drive-thru ordering directly to the customer, increasing customer interaction and drive-thru speed. In order to take full advantage of line-busting capabilities, QSRs should deploy rugged tablets engineered with durability in mind to give their drive-thru workers greater flexibility to operate outdoors where drops, weather and other factors would damage ordinary, consumer-grade devices.

Security & Surveillance

Drive-thru security systems ensure customers, employees and the store remain safe. QSRs have long deployed IP network cameras and video recording systems to capture guest and employee behaviors, preventing theft and providing documentation of necessary situations. Now, the latest surveillance technology has been improved with advanced data analytics capabilities to determine and collect customer and vehicle data while running analytics that track orders, make menu changes, monitor inventory and even reorder supplies. With these insights, drive-thrus can improve customization and boost sales.

QSRs cannot underestimate the potential of the drive-thru, and efficiency ties directly to the bottom line. According to Jim Sullivan, chief executive and founder of Sullivision.com, recent industry research shows that shaving two seconds from every drive-thru customer’s wait time can generate an additional $12,000 in monthly sales, simply because of improvements to efficiency and subsequent volume.

Come back next week for the next post in this series where you’ll learn more about the importance of drive-thru communication system sound quality and its impact on order accuracy.