OTTAWA, Canada—A new study by Intouch Insight found that consumers expect good customer service, short wait time, accurate order and quality food in a drive-thru experience, and some of America’s most popular fast-food chains are better at delivering on those expectations than others, reports The Hill.
Intouch Insight released the findings of its 22nd Annual Drive-Thru Study in partnership with QSR Magazine which examines how 10 of the quick-service industry’ biggest players are measuring up to modern consumer expectations for drive-thru performance. The report features data from over 1,500 drive-thru mystery shops across the country.
As the pandemic wanes and consumers increasingly return to closer contact dining methods, friendly service is ever more critical to customer satisfaction and operational excellence. The research shows that orders placed with friendly staff are 15% more accurate and over three minutes faster than those with unfriendly associates, and these inefficiencies can add up. Based on the average meal cost, unfriendliness can result in over $180,000 in losses annually per store.
Despite having a considerable impact on operations and customer service, friendliness in quick-serve restaurant drive-thrus has been steadily declining over time. Perceived friendliness is down 7% from 2019, currently sitting at 72%. In this arena, Chick-fil-A continues to lead in satisfaction with the level of service, tied this year with Carl’s Jr.
“We’ve all heard that a smile goes a long way, and in quick service that certainly rings true. While it stands to logic that happier associates lead to better customer experiences, the true financial and operational impact of unfriendly service is staggering,” said Laura Livers, head of strategic growth at Intouch Insight. “With friendliness having declined in the industry, brands who can crack the code on employee satisfaction and training will be able to drive better customer service with diner experience, order accuracy and speed.”
Today’s drive-thru customers also have a need for speed, which is being delivered in 2022. The average total time in the drive-thru line is nearly 10 seconds faster compared to last year, dropping to six minutes and 13 seconds. Though improving, that’s about 45 seconds slower than the average reported in 2019. Key factors helping to speed things along include pre-sell menu boards ( about 5 seconds), order accuracy (about 49 seconds) and friendliness.
Looking at which QSR delivers the fastest drive-thru experience, which is defined as how long a customer spends in the drive-thru from start to finish, KFC leads, replacing last year’s leader, Chick-fil-A.
This year, Intouch Insight introduced a new leaderboard for Fastest Total Time by Car, which looks at the average total amount of time spent in the drive-thru, divided by the average number of cars in line in order to provide comparable results across brands. Leaders in this category included Chick-fil-A, followed by McDonald’s and Taco Bell.
The use of suggestive selling is an underutilized tactic among quick-serve restaurants, used less than half the time, the study found. Although contrary to popular belief, orders are 24 seconds faster with a suggestive sell, dispelling the myth that suggestive selling adds time. Brands who frequently use suggestive selling, like Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and KFC, are also among the top five brands when it comes to total fastest time.
“For 22 years, this report has served as an industry benchmark for the top drive-thru brands and trends impacting the industry,” said Livers. “The drive-thru remains a staple in food service and today’s quick serve restaurants are making huge strides towards greater innovation and convenience in the space. In a world of immediacy, creating an optimal experience with immediate satisfaction keeps customers coming back for more.”
For convenience stores, having a drive-thru can be a boon but also tricky from an operations standpoint, NACS Magazine shares in “Drive-Thru Advantage” in the September 2022 issue.