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Q&A with André Pravaz

The way that people use and access the drive-thru is continually evolving. We recently sat down with André Pravaz, Managing Director of Summit Innovations to find out about some of the common challenges that quick serve restaurants (QSRs) experience in the drive-thru arena, as well as the opportunities available to QSRs looking to improve their drive-thru performance.

What are the most common challenges that QSRs see in the drive-thru arena?

The challenges are three-fold; service speed, accuracy and consistency.

When visiting the drive-thru, customers expect a quick and seamless service experience. All too often, particularly during peak operating hours, QSRs experience large waiting times at the drive-thru due to bottlenecks at service points. Most of the time, this occurs at the pick-up window, where a delay can have a considerable flow-on effect to cars queuing.

Order accuracy can be thwarted by poor headset and speaker quality at the drive-thru, resulting in frustration for both the customer and crew member. Asking a customer to repeat an order over and over again, or worse, mishearing an order and giving the wrong product to a customer can not only hold up the drive-thru but leave the customer with a negative experience.

Providing a positive service experience that is consistent time and time again is a difficult challenge for even the tightest of drive-thru operations to achieve. Return customers grow to expect a particular standard from a QSR so even a handful of instances in which service speed is below average can result in a dissatisfied customer.

What are some of the most innovative things that you’re seeing in drive-thrus? How does this help operations?

From a design point of view, it is about utilising all of the real estate available to lengthen distances between service points. The further away an order point, the more time crew members have to prepare a meal prior to the approach at pick-up. If a customer has to stop for long periods they have already begun to think that the service is slow.

Customer Order Displays (COD) at the order point help set the customer’s mind at ease. They can see what they have ordered and make or add changes at the order point through promotional images being displayed. Having the customer trust that you have heard their order correctly prevents the double-checking of orders at the pickup window and improves overall service speed.

Remote reporting solutions have also become an important way for owner-operators to keep track of their store’s drive-thru performance in real time. Our cloud-based reporting platform, Summit Panorama, pulls every piece of information from the drive-thru and displays real-time reports and dashboards that are accessible on any device, anywhere, anytime.
This enables you to track important events and milestones, such as if your store has broken a car count record in one hour over lunch peak. It sends you alerts on any issues which may be affecting your store’s operations in real time, such as if your store has had more than five cars exceed five minutes total service time in a one-hour period. Of course, the parameters are customisable and set by the user to have relevance for their business.

This means that no matter where you are in the world, you can stay on top of an issue before it becomes a real problem for your bottom line.

How does the millennial propensity to order in (and not own cars) affect drive-thru sales?

Millennials are the smartphone generation, which makes it no surprise that they have adopted so quickly digital e-commerce applications for food delivery such as Uber Eats. Having fast food delivered directly to your doorstep was previously limited to a handful of food options but now, thanks to third-party delivery services, the choices are greater than ever before.

Millennials are also less likely to own cars than their generational counterparts, with studies showing that 10-15% of millennials choose not to drive compared to the mid-80s. This is particularly true for city-dwelling millennials, who don’t consider car ownership to be integral to their day to day living.

These factors don’t mean that ordering in is leading to the demise of the drive-thru, it just means that QSRs need to consider ways for them to co-exist and complement one another. For example, some brands now have apps where customers can put their order in before even reaching the drive-thru. Users can simply visit a designated drive-thru lane to pick up their mobile order, making it more convenient and tech-friendly for the younger generations.

On average, drive-thru sales account for more than 50% of a QSR’s sales. For some QSRs, it’s more like 70% to 80% of total sales. It’s always been an integral part of a QSR’s service offering and remains a crucial element.

How can quick-service restaurants use drive-thrus to increase their branding opportunities?

Quick service and accurate orders are the key.

Studies have shown that customer engagement at service points is critical to success, as this will determine how a customer feels about your business as they drive away at the end of the journey. A poor experience at the drive-thru could mean a loss of return loyalty.

This is why it is crucial to step back and analyse what your current operation is doing versus what it can do. The last experience is the first remembered!

What are the most common tactics used to increase sales in the drive-thru?

Dual lane order points (if you have the real estate to do so). This set up enables you to take double the amount of orders during a peak hour, essentially doubling your overall capacity. Dual lane order points come with a caveat though – your staff must be quick at preparing the meals and expediting the orders swiftly through the pick-up point.

Along with this, knowledge is power. The most successful operators, who have achieved significant sales growth in the drive-thru, have visibility with kitchen screens displaying real time drive-thru events. Understanding site bottlenecks and using reports and alerts to manage performance is key to staying on top of service times.

The Summit Innovations Pure Timing System delivers real-time information to the staff inside a store through visual content displayed on screens, as well as audio alerts when actual performance has exceeded set targets at various locations within the drive-thru.

This information allows shift managers to instantly change a work flow based on the real-time data and react to any opportunities where a customer may be impacted by a delay.

What do quick-serve owners/operators need to know if they are thinking about adding a drive-thru, or improving on the drive-thru they have?

For existing sites, we see so many opportunities of lanes not being utilised. Consider moving your order point towards the back of your building so that you have substantial (increased) space between service points.

Ensure you have the best headset technology; nobody likes crackling speaker audio and the extra time spent at a window to take an order again can create a devastating effect on queued cars.

More importantly, give your staff some visibility through timing and ranking screens to help them become aware of their performance, in their store and against their peers. Having a visual exposure to real-time drive-thru events and receiving audio alerts for cars that have been stagnant for too long have often reduced total service times by up to 30 seconds (or more).

Combine this in-store technology with a ranking screen which allows groups of stores to have a visual of how other stores are performing and what ensues is a game changer in staff motivation. Humans are competitive by nature, so motivation to be on top of the ranking screen has played a large role in boosting productivity levels and performance. This alone can take significant pressure off a duty manager.

What drive-thru trends are you seeing emerge for 2018 and beyond?

Technology enhancements will always change the way a consumer finds convenience and the future of the drive-thru is very exciting for this reason.

The percentage of customers who are mobile ordering through an application as opposed to ordering on site is increasing. Stores receiving a notification via a customer’s device that the customer has arrived in the car park or is about to enter the drive-thru is a game changer – specific lanes may cater for mobile order pick-ups.

New cars with built in interfaces to order and predictive suggestions will make ordering from your car easier. Even virtual order takers greeting you on the COD and displaying predictive menu images and offerings based on your preferences.

What are you most excited about regarding drive-thru opportunities in QSRs?

Drive-thru design will always play the most important role in setting yourself up for operational success, but technology will continue to pave the way on how our customers would like to order and receive food – that’s what is exciting about the future of drive-thrus moving forward.

If you would like to talk to a member of the Summit Innovations team about improving your QSR’s performance at the drive-thru, contact us today.