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OM in the News: Queuing Up at the Drive Thru

October 7, 2013
Chick-fil-A averages a whopping 6.09 cars in its drive-thru queue

Chick-fil-A averages a whopping 6.09 cars in its drive-thru queue

Since the advent of the modern quick-service drive thru, restaurant operations managers have tinkered with the nuts and bolts to create a drive thru that is as fast, efficient, and pleasant as possible. Innovations throughout the years, from wireless headsets and order-confirmation boards to dual lanes and pre-sell signage, have created a better drive thru capable of handling the 60–70% of business that loops the exterior of most fast food restaurants.  Accuracy has topped out around 90% for most chains. Cleanliness and favorable exteriors are clearly a major investment in the industry. And order-confirmation boards have become a common tool.

Speed of service, though, has slowed at drive thrus, reports QSR Magazine (Oct. 2013). McDonald’s experienced its slowest average speed of service in the past 15 years, at 189.49 seconds; Chick-fil-A’s speed (203.88 seconds) was its slowest showing since 1998, Krystal’s (217.89) since 1999. The decline in speed is a bad thing, but times are changing. Food isn’t so simple anymore. Burgers and fries have become burrito bowls and customizable salad kits.

That could help explain Chick-fil-A’s speed-of-service. The chicken chain had, on average, more than 6 cars in the drive-thru queue, far and away more than competitors and nearly a full vehicle more than last year. The company is investing more in dual-lane drive thrus to better handle capacity issues. But the move toward more specialty sandwiches is also adding seconds to service time.

Speed is still a top priority at fast food restaurants, and they continue to design systems and procedures accordingly. For example, Wendy’s uses a separate grill and sandwich station in the drive thru to maintain its industry-best speeds, and it trains and cross-trains employees repeatedly to ensure the fastest speeds. Taco John’s is revisiting its drive-thru layout to improve little things that might impede the ability to service the drive thru quickly.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What tools does OM provide to speed drive thru service?

2. How do the various chains differ in handling drive thru customers?

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