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Drive-Thru Innovations Enhance CX

QSRs are leaning into technology to drive convenience, speed, accuracy and overall CX.
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Whether you’re actively updating your drive-thru service or have yet to start, consider these ideas for enhancing guest experiences while still focusing on four objectives: seamless traffic flow, guest convenience, speed of service and order accuracy.

Ensure Diners Drive Thru Drive Off

Drive-thru operations directly impact your parking lot, with snaking lines of guests creating gridlock on your property or even the surrounding road, causing some of them to drive off instead of drive-thru.

Try transitioning your drive-thru to a multi-lane format like Taco Bell Defy, an innovative concept unveiled in suburban Minneapolis and winner of HT's 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough Award for Customer Engagement. This restaurant features four drive-thru lines and a vertical lift to transport food to customers from its second-story kitchen. Although four lines might not be doable for your location, two can usually shorten the time consumers wait for their orders.

Think, too, about leveraging signs and cones to direct traffic flow and utilizing line-busting handheld point-of-sale systems, which improve speed of service by enabling staff members to walk through the line(s) to expedite order placement and payment.

Implement technology that gives your restaurant real-time visibility into drive-thru operations, providing the necessary metrics to adjust on the fly.

Provide Customer Convenience

In an industry that thrives off convenience, pickup has staying power. When diners enter the drive-thru lane, they expect a simple, frictionless experience, especially if they ordered ahead of time.

Run your restaurant end-to-end using technology that enables staff to see and interact with orders as they are placed, in real-time, and view arrival notifications based on continuous GPS tracking. This streamlines the staff and guest experience.

A growing number of QSR chains are testing and implementing drive-thrus that use AI and/or geofencing for further convenience.

When a customer using the Chick-fil-A app enables location services, also referred to as geofencing or beacon technology, restaurant staff know the diner is close to the restaurant and can start preparing the order to reduce wait times.

Wendy’s recent partnership with Google Cloud is testing generative AI and large language models technology at company-operated restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. The effort, called Wendy's FreshAi, will have conversations with customers, understand customization requests and generate responses to frequently asked questions to improve the drive-thru experience.

Keep Fast Food Fast

Between 2020 and 2021, the average time spent in the drive-thru lane increased by more than 25 seconds to 382 seconds. Forward-thinking restaurants are making long-term operational changes and optimizing drive-thrus for speed to sustain service levels amid ongoing staff shortages.

Try installing a drive-thru loop to activate the presence of a vehicle at the order confirmation board and the window to notify staff a guest has arrived and begin the drive-thru timer.

Consider adding curbside pickups for mobile orders and dedicated staff to manage deliveries to speed up the drive-thru lane and alleviate traffic for mobile orders. Some brands take this a step further by offering reserved parking spots for curbside customers. 

Deliver Accurate Orders

Anyone who has opened their to-go bag after driving away only to find a mistake in the order has experienced the frustration that restaurants try to avoid. The customer experience plummets with diners who specify, “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce,” only to find their food with these items and therefore, not to their liking. Effective communication − whether among staff or between staff and customers − is still essential to getting the order right.

Innovative digital signage like outdoor customer confirmation screens can improve order accuracy, increase speed and boost upsell and cross-sell messages. They can deliver engaging menus complete with mouthwatering food photos and persuasive offers.

Plus, having a good headset solution for the drive-thru can help brands improve the accuracy quotient by offering clear, crisp sound quality. Digital headsets also allow QSR employees to quickly input orders into the system with their hands-free capability.

Here to Stay

In the coming years, drive-through technology is expected to grow, and restaurants are predicted to increasingly rely upon these innovations. Drive-thru lanes will keep on evolving and giving customers what they want: convenience, speed, accuracy and experience.

About the Author

Lindsay Petrovic is Vice President, Hospitality Product Management at NCR Corp.

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