If you want a hint at what all drive-thrus of the future might look like, head to Australia, where KFC is piloting its first-ever drive-thru concept store.
The store, which will first be trialled in Newcastle, New South Wales, is the chain’s first drive-thru-only location and is meant to speed up the process of ordering, paying for, and collecting food while at the drive-thru.
Digital is the main focus here. Customers order ahead via the KFC mobile app, which will then generate a four-digit code. Once in the drive-thru lane, they key that code into a touchscreen receiver, which shoots the order to the kitchen where the food is made. Drivers then pull up to the main pickup window to retrieve the food.
KFC has also said this streamlined setup is ideal for delivery drivers picking up food, as it could cut down on how long they have to wait before collecting a customer’s order.
What’s potentially more exciting about this concept, though, is not what it will look like when the store opens in November, but what it could eventually become. Gary Mortimer, a retail expert at Queensland University of Technology, noted in a recent interview that while a drive-thru-only concept could speed up the process, in this iteration of KFC’s new store, customers still have to wait onsite for their food to be made. He then hinted at the potential of push notifications, which could be used to tell the customer when their food is ready and also alert the restaurant when a customer is less than a mile away.
That level of precise timing won’t make it into this first iteration of KFC’s new drive-thru only store, but the concept itself is a good indicator of what’s to come for drive-thrus all over the world as the restaurant industry goes more digital and customers expect their food faster.
Major QSRs still see over half their orders come from the drive-thru window. But at the same time, waits are getting longer. In response, tech companies and QSRs alike are implementing tech-driven initiatives to cut down those times. Dunkin’ has added dedicated drive-thru lanes for mobile orders, and Starbucks already offers a number of drive-thru/walk-up locations meant for speedier service in high-traffic areas.
KFC’s new store will still feature two lanes for more traditional drive-thru operations, where customers can order via a speaker phone that has a human being on the other hand. That human element will remain an important offering for QSRs implementing new tech concepts — for now. As customers grow more comfortable with digital, there’s a good chance the crackly speaker phone will fall by the wayside at some point.