The Outlook for QSR Drive-Thru and Curbside Pickup
The OneDataSource Editorial Team
December 22, 2021
The drive-thru is undergoing an evolution. QSR operators already knew it was paramount, but it’s only taken on more prominence in a business’s ability to survive and thrive over the past 18 months.
QSRs saw 70 percent of sales via drive-thru pre-pandemic. Overnight, that number pushed well above 90 percent. That had many operators taking a close look at how they were serving guests and, by extension, operations.14
For the drive-thru guest experience, convenience sits at the center. In fact, according to the QSR magazine Drive-Thru Study, consumers’ no. 1 reason for a drive-thru visit was “convenience” at 75%, not speed (45 percent). Speed of service, order accuracy, hospitality, and safety all factor into that level of convenience. It’s a multi-layered effort that’s seen significant changes.15
Updates to drive-thru infrastructureOne of the clearest pandemic accelerants is the update to drive-thru infrastructure. More consumers using the drive-thru combined with the push of off-premises dining and order ahead culminated in operators identifying ways to optimize the experience. The result became a reconfiguration of the drive-thru. For some QSRs, that means designated parking spots or express lanes for mobile pick-up orders. Others have even added a lane for third-party delivery to pick up orders headed to consumers’ homes.
Appearance of the drive-thruGuest experience extends to the actual look of the drive-thru. Many have started adding canopies to protect guests and staff from inclement weather. Noticeably, some like Chick-fil-A have pick-up windows that also function as doors. Not only does it boost the speed of service by getting multiple orders out to multiple cars, but it also improves employee experience.
Staffing of the drive-thruWith the drive-thru booming, more staff is needed to bring the inside counter experience out. Plus, guests interact with brands before they even get in line by passing by the main road and gauging whether the line is moving. That has led to big and small adjustments in staffing. Some of the adjustments include having more employees directing traffic or taking orders on iPads. Another has been to ditch the traditional pay-at-the-window, which can slow down the speed of service. Instead, some brands have opted for taking payment on digital devices or positioning a staff member at a stand to take payment midway point in the drive-thru line. Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents in QSR magazine’s Drive-Thru Study noted they either preferred or were entirely on board with separate payment and pickup windows instead of a single window for both.3
Again, convenience sits at the center of customers’ decision-making.
75 percent of people say it’s the primary reason they are more prone to use drive-thru versus entering the store.
Though for quick-service operators, it’s clear they must consider more than just infrastructure and what happens on-premises.
The drive-thru experience is more than customers on-premises and in line. It’s everything that happens leading up to, during, and after the experience as well.
Consumers interact with brands digitally. Many brands were experimenting pre-pandemic with mobile apps and online ordering. That exploded during the pandemic. So, while QSRs make updates to their physical infrastructure, they also must update their digital infrastructure. Modifying their website or app to make menu navigation and ordering easy is vital. There’s the through-line beyond, though. Customers can stay updated on order preparation, time for arrival, and check-in, so restaurants know when they arrive.
Consumers want better mobile ordering experiences as well. Nearly half (45%) of QSR magazine’s Drive-Thru Study respondents said they wished there were more mobile ordering options available for drive-thru orders. The picture is more evident when digging deeper into demographics. Gen Z’s preference surged to 65 percent in 2021 versus 41 percent the year before. 15
Taco Bell Case Study
With the drive-thru booming, more staff is needed to bring the inside counter experience out. Plus, guests interact with brands before they even get in line by passing by the main road and gauging whether the line is moving.
The leader in drive-thru efficiency, Taco Bell, the Yum! Brands chain is a clear example. The chain holds the top spot for efficiency with sub-4-minute drive-thru order to delivery times. So how do they do it?
They added contactless payment, speed lines, more employees during peak hours, and new kitchen display systems to help employees expedite food production. They also unveiled Taco Bell’s Go Mobile model that marries infrastructure with technology. With this design, their physical footprint is smaller – 1,325-square-foot compared to roughly 2,500-square-foot at traditional Taco Bell stores. The model also features a dual drive-thru with a priority pickup lane and rapid service for guests who order through Taco Bell’s app. Plus, their evolved digital experience features smart kitchen technology that integrates Taco Bell’s app to detect when guests arrive and suggest the quickest route.14
The factors that determine drive-thru success vary by brand and approach. Though, it’s clear that drive-thru was and will continue to be a valuable aspect of quick service.
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