Chick-fil-A Drive-Thru Traffic Draws Ire

Critics say customers block parking spaces and deter shoppers from visiting neighboring businesses.

February 23, 2021

ATLANTA—Chick-fil-A's massive drive-thru lines are famous, and when a South Carolina drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic became snarled with traffic, the local mayor called Chick-fil-A for advice, reports Business Insider.

For Mario Kiezi, an Ohio shopping center owner, the chicken chain’s success story is nightmare. After Kiezi renovated a shopping center in Toledo, a new Chick-fil-A opened just yards away. When the pandemic arrived, Chick-fil-A's dining rooms closed, and drive-thru traffic skyrocketed.

To help alleviate the problem, Kiezi said a Chick-fil-A property-management representative emailed him to ask if the store could temporarily extend its drive-thru line into the shopping center's parking lot.

Kiezi said he did not respond, but Chick-fil-A proceeded with plans, adding signs that sent lines of cars winding through the lot and blocking parking spaces of neighboring businesses. In November, Kiezi's company filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.

Business Insider spoke with business owners, government employees and Chick-fil-A workers who, along with local news reports, indicate that this is a nationwide problem involving business complaints, police intervention and significant traffic problems linked to Chick-fil-A's drive-thrus across more than 20 states.

Chick-fil-A has faced at least four lawsuits from local businesses and customers related to its drive-thru lanes since the pandemic began, according to Business Insider. Business owners say the long drive-thru lines are hurting their operations, making it difficult for customers to reach their shops. Business Insider didn’t indicate how many other QSRs have been sued over their drive-thru lines.

Chick-fil-A and the local franchisees declined to comment on the specific lawsuits, Business Insider said.

Mark Kalinowski, founder of the research firm, Kalinowski Equity Research, said that it’s likely that 99% of Chick-fil-A locations do not cause such serious drive-thru problems. The average Chick-fil-A location made roughly $4.5 million in sales in 2019, while a U.S. McDonald's location made approximately $2.9 million in the same period, according to Business Insider. 

Long lines at drive-thrus aren’t unique to Chick-fil-A. As the pandemic closed down indoor dining, customers faced long lines of traffic waiting to order at QSRs from McDonald’s to Burger King. During last week’s severe weather in Houston and power outages, a line some 50 cars long backed up at the drive-thru of a Burger King with power, ABC 13 reports.

Before the pandemic, drive-thrus accounted for about 70% of QSR sales, according to QSR magazine. For example, Restaurant Brands International, owner of Burger King, said drive-thru sales grabbed two-thirds of its overall sales in 2019, but that percentage jumped to more than 85% post-pandemic. 

Drive-thru demand has increased the average wait time by 30 seconds at QSRs, partly because of food preparation and partly because of larger menus, according to Joseph Bona, founder of Bona Design Lab.

Chick-fil-A has been implementing a number of solutions to reduce wait times and ease traffic problems. Drive-thru mobile ordering allows customers to order and pay in advance. Signs and cones control traffic, and additional drive-thru lanes aim to help manage increased volume. The chain also assigns employees to walk up to cars in the drive-thru line and take orders on iPads.

Find out how retailers are wrestling with curbside pickup and drive-thrus in “Reimaging Retail with Drive-Thrus,” based on the NACS Crack the Code Experience spotlight session “Ideas From Around the World.” Read more about c-store drive-thru opportunities in “Pass Through” in the October issue of NACS Magazine.