Fast-food drive-thru lanes are becoming faster as fewer drivers wait in line. According to an annual study released on Monday by Intouch Insight, fewer consumers order their fast-food meals and milkshakes while sitting in their vehicles.
This year, the average time spent in a drive-through lane decreased by 29 seconds. The average number of cars in the queue to place an order decreased from 2.76 to 1.36, resulting in a 25-second decrease in wait times.
Nearly 1,500 locations of Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’, Hardee’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s were visited for the Intouch Insight study. From June to July, mystery consumers ordered from the drive-thru lanes at various times.
Overall, Taco Bell, KFC, and Carl’s Jr. had the quickest drive-through times. When their longer average total times were divided by the number of vehicles in line, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s surpassed the other two chains. In other words, Carl’s Jr. and Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and KFC were faster because their drive-through lanes were less crowded.
Since the pandemic outbreak, however, demand for drive-thru lanes has decreased across the board. Customers shifted from ordering inside to ordering from their vehicles at that time. Even as fast-food restaurants reopened their dining rooms, the trend continued.
Fast-food chains were forced to develop solutions, such as curbside collection for mobile orders, to address the issue caused by the increase in demand. Despite these efforts, this year’s total drive-through times are 15 seconds behind those of 2019.
Many diners are now purchasing online or at self-service kiosks within restaurants.
Even as drive-thru visits level off, restaurants like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A continue to improve service speed and eliminate errors. Some are experimenting with artificial intelligence software to accept orders, while others are constructing new locations with up to four drive-through lanes.
This year, Intouch Insight’s mystery shoppers visited two unique restaurants: a McDonald’s test restaurant with an order-ahead lane and a drive-thru lane and a Taco Bell location with one traditional drive-thru lane and three additional lanes reserved for delivery drivers and customers who ordered ahead.
Both locations’ service times were approximately one minute faster than their parent brands. The Taco Bell restaurant also outperformed the chain regarding order accuracy, scoring 88% compared to the average of 85%. But McDonald’s test location’s accuracy score of 80% was significantly below the chain’s rate of 88%.