Quick-Service Restaurants Aim to Bring the ‘Quick’ Back to the Drive-Thru


With the need for speed superseding other considerations for many restaurant customers, brands are making compromises to boost their throughput. At Morgan Stanley’s Global Consumer and Retail Conference on Wednesday (Dec. 1), Jose Cil, CEO of Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International, announced that the burger chain is streamlining its menus at some locations to speed up drive-thru times, following slow-downs in the last year or so.

“We’re working on eliminating SKUs, simplifying processes that have become a bit too complicated and doing a better job in terms of menu design to make it easier for customers at the drive-thru, in particular, to make decisions,” Cil said, according to CNBC.

He added that the company is implementing new food prep technologies and digital signage to help speed up the process, USA Today reported.

The Context

Many major brands are betting on the future of the drive-thru channel. On Tuesday (Nov. 30), Shake Shack announced its first drive-thru location to open on Dec. 6 in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Additionally, brand after brand has been rolling out dual-lane drive-thrus with an express path for mobile order pickup.

Not all restaurants are addressing challenges in the drive-thru space by doubling down, however. In mid-November, KFC stated in a press release that in light of “all-time industry high” wait times, the chain is rolling out KFC Quick Pick-Up, whereby customers pick up their own orders from a designated shelf to encourage consumers to skip the drive-thru.

By the Numbers

Research from PYMNTS’ 2021 Restaurant Readiness Index, created in collaboration with Paytronix, finds that on average, restaurant managers underestimate the importance of the drive-thru relative to consumers, with 26% of the former and 40% of the latter reporting that they believe the ability to pick up orders at the drive-thru will be important to restaurants’ future success.

Read more: QSRs’ Lagging Loyalty-Reward Investment Hurts Innovation and Sales

Additionally, the Index finds that restaurants with drive-thrus outperform those without. Fifty-seven percent of top-performing restaurants offer the ability to pick up orders at the drive-thru, compared to just a third of middle performers and 16% of bottom performers.

What Insiders Are Saying

“Speed is everything when it comes to the drive-thru; delivering a fast and friendly experience is something we pride ourselves on,” Taco Bell President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Grams told PYMNTS in an interview. “Consumers visit our restaurants for a safe, quick and efficient experience from the moment they place their order – whether that’s through the app, in-restaurant kiosk or drive-thru – to the moment they receive their food.”

Related news: Taco Bell Restaurants Will Keep Getting Smaller, Says COO

Across the restaurant industry, brands are rethinking their drive-thrus for the omnichannel future.

“We investigated drive-thrus a few years ago — we were surprised how antiquated they were. They’ve been operating the same way for 30, 40 years. There’s really been no innovation,” Rajat Suri, founder and CEO of restaurant voice, vision and touch technology company Presto and co-founder of Lyft, told PYMNTS in an interview. “So I think drive-thrus are going to become a lot faster, a lot more personalized, where you’ll have a chance to opt in to be recognized every time you go, and you’ll have a burger made exactly the way you like it, and they’re going to need a lot less labor to run efficiently.”

See also: Drive-Thrus Get a Long-Overdue Tech Upgrade for the 2020s