During the pandemic, the drive-thru lane provided a major boon to businesses for fast food chains which, along with the rest of the service industry, have struggled to adapt to COVID-19 safety protocols for restaurant service. The American drive-thru landscape has since changed dramatically, with chains like Taco Bell unveiling new concepts like multi-lane drive-thru to maximize speed and efficiency.
Meanwhile, drive-thru wait times have increased across the board by nearly 26 seconds on average from 2020 to 2021, according to to a report from a market research company View HX Level. It may not seem like much, but drive-thru speed is crucial for most fast-food restaurants, many of which are constantly striving to cut wait times by precious seconds.
Why the drive-thru takes longer
Much of the blame can probably be attributed to the large number of people who have switched to steering wheel control: data by the NPD group shows that drive-through visits increased by 26% in April, May and June 2020, just at the start of the pandemic. This preference seems to have stuckCNN reported in November.
This means a lot more work for drive-thru employees. So how can you, a loyal fast food customer, do your part to speed up the process and make life for your server (and other drive-thru dwellers) a little easier?
Order through the mobile app, if you can
Chains like Chick-fil-A offer drive-thru pickup for mobile ordersallowing customers to place orders and pay before even queuing.
“It definitely cuts our line in half, I would say,” said Makai Weekes, assistant chief financial officer at Chick-fil-A in Westbury, New York. The takeaway.
“We like mobile orders because it’s easy for both [customer and employee]“wrote the Reddit user and alleged Chick-fil-A worker. Clear_Supermarket_66 in a subreddit for Chick-fil-A employees. “It’s a huge time saver.”
Almost all fast food chains has a mobile ordering app, and many offer a number of benefits such as point systems and offers. So if you’re willing to divulge some personal datait could make your drive-thru experience smoother.
Be present when ordering
Listen to your server. Turn down the music in your car, pause your phone conversation and focus on the task at hand: be sure to request your Dunkaccino or Spicy Chicken Sandwich with extra Polynesian sauce as soon as possible, so your waiter can move on to the next. customer; it helps things move forward quickly and efficiently.
“Sometimes customers have background noise like music, or they’re talking to someone on the phone,” said Gabriella G., who works a drive-thru at a Dunkin’ in Jersey City. “We barely hear them.”
Engine noise can also cause problems. “Diesel Truck Owners[,] turn off your engines in the [drive-thru]wrote a Reddit user and drive-thru employee. “You can’t hear anything with the engine running.”
Know what you want
It might be obvious, but actually know what you want to order before you approach the speaker.
“One thing that might help is if they already know what they want,” Gabriella G. said.
Keeping your server waiting, not to mention all the cars behind you, while you decide if you earned the extra guac on your bowl of Chipotle burrito is just a waste of everyone’s time.
“Determine it THEN order,” wrote one Reddit user. “These are two separate stages.”
Keep conversation to a minimum
Chatting with your server at the wheel can be cute, even slightly infuriating, for a slow moment. However, it can be really infuriating if it’s during the lunch rush and there are ten cars waiting behind you, especially if your server is at the end of an eight-hour shift.
“For God’s sake, my job is hard enough without curious customers,” wrote a Reddit user and drive-thru worker. jayellkay84. “I have 75 seconds to take your order and give you your food. I don’t know what they are building next and right now I don’t care. Take your food and leave.
How long should we expect to queue?
While the average wait time for drive-thru in 2021 was 382 seconds, according to the SeeLevel Hx report, the actual wait time is more chain dependent; some factors include longer or more complicated menus, or items that take longer to prepare. As QSR Magazine reported in its 2021 Drive-Thru Study, Taco Bell had the shortest average drive-thru wait times at 268 seconds, or 4 minutes and 28 seconds. Close behind was KFC with 272 seconds, or 4 minutes and 32 seconds.
Chick-fil-A was the the slowest with a waiting time of 541 seconds, or just over 9 minutes. So if you absolutely to have to get your morning chicken, egg and cheese before work, consider launching your mobile app—before you approach the window.