The drive-thru evolution

As takeout and off premise dining traffic remains high long after the pandemic, many QSRs are looking to improve their drive-thru service to decrease wait times and boost efficiency. 39 per cent of QSRs report bumper to bumper traffic in the drive-thru, causing longer lines and customer back-up.

During the pandemic, when takeout was the only option, many QSRs shifted their practices, adopting separate food delivery lines or dedicating spaces where cars could wait, all in an attempt to manage traffic flow and lower wait times. Following the pandemic, off-premise dining has remained popular, with 16 per cent of consumers buying fast food each day, so QSRs need to find permanent solutions to address the larger volume of takeout orders.

With mobile ordering and third-party delivery continuing to grow, restaurants need to make sure they are addressing the evolution in that space. With nearly 80 per cent of visitors listing convenience as the most important part of the drive-thru experience, restaurants need to ensure that the experience stays positive and moves as smoothly as possible.

Studies show that 67 per cent of QSR revenue comes from digital ordering, so this may be an avenue where restaurants can improve efficiency and streamline operations. Many QSRs are creating drive-thru systems to address mobile ordering and keep cars flowing through the line. Taco Bell has introduced a four-lane concept at their drive-thru, with three of those lanes dedicated to mobile pick up. KFC has also introduced lines dedicated to mobile order pickups, reporting an increase of 12 per cent in sales in 2021’s Q4 as a result of this change.

Takeout vs. delivery

The rise of third-party delivery also factors into the QSR operations, adding to-go orders to the queue. To address the added delivery traffic, McDonald’s is testing a pickup room for delivery workers to try and shorten lineups as orders are being prepared, as well as a pickup shelf for customers coming in to get their orders.

Rather than holding up the window, they are also adding dedicated parking spots for delivery drivers and customers to wait for their orders. With clear signage, delivery drivers can head to a designated spot, clearing the way for the rest of the pickups as they wait for their order.

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With the continued labour shortage, increased mobile ordering and third-party delivery have made many restaurants have to choose between taking the order of a customer on-site or prioritizing the pickup. Technology like on-site kiosks for self-ordering can help manage traffic inside the restaurant, so employees can focus on the flow of the drive-thru.

By optimizing the drive-thru, employees better set the pace, manage traffic, and provide the experience customers are expecting when they visit the restaurant.