STUDY: Savings from Order Confirmation Boards in Drive-Thru Doubled in 2020

Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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SeeLevel HX Annual Drive-Thru Study reveals slower total times, mixed responses to COVID-19.

Order confirmation boards savings more than doubled in 2020, according to the 2020 SeeLevel HX Annual Drive-Thru Study  Of the 40.8% of drive-thrus with order confirmation boards, service times were 17.4 seconds faster than those without, according to the study. 

Stores more than doubled their potential savings in 2020 with an order confirmation board due to faster service times. In 2020, the potential savings per store is $39,138.95 compared to $14,085.35 in 2019, according to the study, which is in its 20th year.  

SeeLevel HX's research captures year-over-year drive-thru performance and compares the consumer experience at quick service restaurant (QSR) brands in multiple categories including order accuracy, speed, taste, and service. Ten major brands and 1,490 drive-thru visits were included in the study conducted by the mystery shopping market research agency.

The study's release comes as guests are increasingly relying on the drive-thru for order pickup. During the pandemic, drive-thrus have dominated off-prem, according to Service Management Group’s (SMG) June study of 8,500 consumers that revealed that more than 75% of consumers surveyed have used a drive-thru.

Speed Matters

This year's SeeLevel HX study also reveals shake-up among restaurants with the fastest total time, which consists of both service times and wait times, with KFC taking the lead followed by Taco Bell, Hardee's, Carl's Jr., and Burger King.

Customers who wait under two minutes for an order are four times more likely to repeat purchase from the same retailer or restaurant, according to the Rakuten Ready 2020 Time Study.

The SeeLevel HX report also uncovered that total times across all brands were 29.8 seconds slower than last year. Surprisingly, service time, the time from placing an order to picking up, was actually 16.9 seconds faster this year at 238.1 seconds compared to 255 seconds in 2019. However, slower wait times in 2020 increased the overall total times down, equating to a substantial loss in revenue opportunities with a typical brand losing up to $64,182,668 annually per 2,000 stores.

COVID-19 Concerns

This year, the study also explored COVID-19's impact on the industry, establishing the first and only performance baseline to date. Most surprisingly, 88% of drive-thrus visited did not have signs posted at the order station to indicate safety standards such as masks, gloves, and social distancing requirements. Also notable, slightly more than half of the drive-thrus visited (59%) displayed plastic barriers separating customers from employees at all windows.

"The pandemic is continuing to have a massive impact on QSRs from a spike in traffic and stricter safety standards and protocols to a substantial increase in staffing turnover and training, so I'm not surprised to see a dip in speed of service," said Lisa van Kesteren, SeeLevel HX CEO. "Still, every second has a substantial impact on the bottom line. And as more restaurants rely on the drive-thru for the majority of their revenue during this pandemic, and likely long term, it's never been more critical to focus on improving wait time by investing in technology like menuboards and mobile to stay competitive." 

Speed of Service
-       2020: KFC, Taco Bell, Hardees, Carl's Jr., Burger King
-       2019: Dunkin', Carl's Jr., KFC, Burger King, Hardees

Order Accuracy
-       2020: Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, Arby's, Burger King, Dunkin'
-       2019: Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Wendy's, Arby's McDonald's

Additional findings include:

QSRs had mixed responses to COVID-19
-       91% of employees were wearing masks at the payment and pickup windows.
-       The majority of orders (80%) were handed directly to customers while only 16% were placed on a tray.
-       Only 9% of drive-thrus notified customers of a limited menu.

Order accuracy improved slightly over 2019
-       Order accuracy was up to 87% after a slight decline in 2019 at 84.4%.
-       On average, inaccurate orders cost $94,232 per store each year.

The report is available here and includes additional insights into suggestive sells, digital menuboards, and pre-sell menuboards.

Study Methodology
The study included 10 chains and data from 1,490 visits, with the following breakdown of 165 visits each to Arby's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin', KFC, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's, and 85 visits each to Carl's Jr. and Hardee's.