Time is a matter of perception, and a minute is never longer than when you’re waiting to use the bathroom idling in a fast food drive-thru line.
A newly-released Drive-Thru Performance Study from QSR Magazine (QSR stands for Quick Service Restaurants) reveals the restaurants with the slowest and fastest average drive-thru times. It’s an interesting breakdown, especially if you don’t tend to wait for your food with a stopwatch in hand.
The study found that customers spend an average of about 255 seconds, or about 4.25 minutes, waiting in drive-thru lines between the speaker and the order window.
Dunkin’ Donuts clocked in with the fastest average time, at 230.38 seconds from first-order window approach to full order completion. That’s under four minutes.
The root cause of the issue, according to the study, isn’t poor service. It’s the demand.
QSR reports the constantly crowded lanes don’t show any sign of dying down in the near future.
One way Chick-fil-A is working to speed those lines up is by walking up to your car and taking your order on a tablet.
“We are embracing technology to both provide a better experience for guests and to help take tasks off restaurant team members so they can devote more time to hospitality for our customers,” Khalilah Cooper, Chick-fil-A’s director of service and hospitality, told QSR.
Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr. and Burger King were other speedy servers.
McDonald’s, Hardees and Arby’s were on the slower end.
How do you accurately measure a drive-thru wait? QSR Magazine does it every year, using a mystery shopping and market research company to collect the data. According to QSR’s methodology, each order was standardized to a main item, side item and drink, along with a minor special request, like no ice.
Researchers also recorded the service time from a randomly selected vehicle as well as their own.
“Service time was defined as the time from stopping at the order station to receipt of all items (including change),” QSR’s methodology reads. “Additional data collected by each researcher included but was not limited to: order accuracy, drive-thru and exterior appearance, speaker clarity, and customer service. All purchases were made using cash so as not to influence timing.”
Now, pokey drive-thru service isn’t necessarily the product of slow workers or inefficient routines. Arby’s COO John Kelly told QSR more elaborate and higher-quality menu items can slow service down, and it’s up to the companies to figure out how to adapt to keep service efficient.
“We know we’ve got very complex menu items, and our guests are demanding those, so we have to make sure that the engine that we build in our kitchen is able to execute them in a very efficient way,” he said.
The study also broke down the average waits by time of day.
On average, breakfast hours had the quickest service with an average wait time of 238.84 seconds.
The late afternoon rush slowed service down the most to an average of 274.71 seconds per order.