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The rise of the drive-thru: Now and Then

As our lives become busier than ever before, we are constantly looking for quick and efficient ways to get through our daily tasks, including meal prep. Convenience has become a major factor in our decision-making process.

In such a competitive QSR environment, business owners can’t afford to have a slow drive-thru. Customers will just go elsewhere and, in some brands where over 70% of customers prefer the drive-thru, it is a matter of keeping up with demand and designing stores that cater to this demographic. For others it could be a matter of the “if you build it, they will come” analogy.

The drive-thru concept was born in the 1950s with the intention of offering customers a quick and easy meal ordering and delivery experience to mirror the service they would receive if they were to park the car and walk inside.

Why did this concept seem logical? Customers wanted an experience that not only matched dining room service, they wanted that experience to be quick. The percentage of “to go” orders was increasing along with car ownership in that era.

Eliminating the need for a customer to exit their car was the first step, the second component was how a business could continue to deliver the “quick experience” that the consumer demanded.

Over the years, drive-thru design has evolved and demand for a fast and convenient experience has grown. 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.

For drive-thrus, this can come down to a number of seemingly simple decisions: the length of a driveway, where an order point is placed, whether or not a dual order point should be considered if the real estate is available and whether a separate payment window is required.

These decisions, if made correctly, all have the capacity to contribute to greater customer satisfaction, higher throughput and return loyalty.

Operationally, teams need to have a quick mindset with the right tools to assist them to deliver the desired results.

Technology advancements have come a long way to help.

Long gone are microphones fixed to walls and headsets with cables that get tangled. Wireless headsets have helped improve productivity by allowing employees to multi-task, along with speaker and microphone clarity, which has sped up service times and eliminated order errors.

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, if performance has exceeded desired targets at various locations within the drive-thru.

This information is allowing 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.

We often get asked, “I’m not always in my store, how do I know how its performance is going?” Our cloud-based reporting platform, Summit Panorama, pulls every piece of information from the Summit Pure Timing System and displays reports and dashboards that are accessible on any device, anywhere, anytime.

You have the ability to design your own reports from over 80 different events per car and schedule reports to be sent over email at selected times, including exception reports, and real time notifications, if a key metric has been met or a threshold rule has been exceeded.

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 also allows you to be alerted to any issues which may be affecting your store’s operations in real time.

Actions from alerts have led to some amazing improvements where, over time, crew members have worked on fixing a particular area of the drive-thru, and owners or field operators have changed alerts after six weeks and moved onto a new notification. “It’s about creating habitual processes along the way that remain solid amongst a team,” one owner reported.

Owners have reported that these systems change the way they roster and deploy, reducing some of the overheads associated with labour costs. They also report increased sales through customer satisfaction – a 30 second improvement in total time sees a ROI within 6 months.

The team at Summit Innovations not only provides the most advanced drive-thru technology but can assist with drive-thru design, operations training and consulting. Our goal is to help improve your QSR’s bottom line by tightening operational speed, reducing ordering errors and creating a system of accountability.

Please contact a member of the Summit Innovations team if you would like to find out how technology can help your QSR’s drive-thru performance.

By Belinda Miksa, National QSR Operations Consultant at Summit Innovations