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Feel Like the Drive-Thru Is Slower These Days? You're Not Imagining Things

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"The biggest pain point in the drive-thru experience is actually..."

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They're taking the "fast" out of "fast food" in one of the last places you'd expect: the drive-thru.

It all has to do with the menu.

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The average time it takes a customer to get through a drive-thru line skyrocketed in 2014, according to fast-food industry trade publication QSR Magazine's 2014 Drive-Thru Performance Study.

In 2013, the average customer went from ordering to driving off in 180.83 seconds; in 2014, customers spent an average of 203.29 seconds getting through the drive-thru. And the wait time rocketed to nearly 240 seconds for "sandwich" chains including Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, Subway and Jimmy John’s.

What caused the delays?

For one thing, as QSR editor Sam Oches noted, the magazine's researchers analyzed more brands (a total of 23 chains) this year than they have in previous years, which could have impacted the data.

But there's a strong fundamental reason why it's taking longer to get your order ready: Fast-food menus have become bigger and the menu items are getting more complicated.

Image via Matt McGee/flickr Image via Matt McGee/flickr

Oches noted that options such as Taco Bell's "Cantina Bell" menu items, which are meant to be healthier, "premium" options, take longer to prepare and contribute to slow drive-thru times.

Comparing drive-thru speed across different times of day revealed that drive-thru waits were shortest during the breakfast rush, when many chains serve a limited menu selection, while dinner was the slowest time of day as expanded menu options took their toll on speed.

Oches also noted that some chains are trying to tackle a perennial slow point in the drive-thru — that moment when people make up their minds looking at the menu — with technology.

“By launching the Dunkin’ App and offering mobile payments, we created an entirely new level of speed and convenience that will further distinguish our brand to current and new customers throughout the country,” Dunkin' Donuts spokeswoman Michelle King said.

Mike Grams, chief operating officer of Taco Bell, told QSR his chain learned a long time ago that "the biggest pain point in the drive-thru experience is actually placing the order.”

“The stress of finding it on the menuboard or remembering what your friend told you that they wanted from Taco Bell is a huge piece to the consumer that we can relieve with mobile ordering. So our ability to get that out to market and have consumers go through our drive-thru, place their order in advance, and simply roll through and pick it up is pretty cool," Grams said. "Mobile will change drive-thru. No doubt.”

(H/T: USA Today)

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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