Around this time last year, we asked whether tech could help drive-thru wait times, which have steadily grown longer over the last couple decades. Tech certainly tried to help this year, as evidenced by the endless updates from QSRs on their new drive-thru innovations. But as QSR Magazine’s just released 2020 Drive-Thru Study shows, wait times are actually longer this year than last.
While service time — that is, the time it takes between placing an order and retrieving it — was actually a little faster in 2020 (238.1 seconds compared to 255 seconds in 2019), total wait time in the drive-thru lane is up. Total times across all brands were 29.8 seconds slower than last year. As today’s press release summarizing the report notes, “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.”
In many ways, the longer wait time are to be expected. We are, after all, in the midst of a pandemic that has turned the restaurant industry on its head and more or less forced businesses to go off-premises. That in turn translates to more folks in line at the drive-thru, not to mention more operational pieces to juggle as restaurants adopt new safety protocols and technologies.
Even so, three QSRs surveyed for the study bucked this trend of slower wait times: KFC, Taco Bell, and Hardee’s improved their wait times this year, clocking in under the average time of 356.8 seconds. (Carl’s Jr. and Burger King also squeaked by beneath the average.)
KFC’s leading spot in the drive-thru realm makes sense when you consider its existing efforts around the drive-thru. The chain launched an in-house digital ordering system last year and is said to be testing automation technology and drive-thru-only concept stores. Taco Bell has also been giving its business a tech-forward facelift of late, including new tech and formatting for its drive-thru lanes.
QSR’s report noted that “COVID-19 is here to stay,” though that statement seems less about the actual illness and more about the world it’s created. Where restaurants are concerned, that means speed of service, shorter wait times, more consistent order accuracy are critical priorities for chains to get right as more of the biz goes off-premises.