Ways to Improve Your Drive-thru – Part 4

Today we wrap up our installments addressing Daniel P. Smith’s “100 Ways to Improve Your Drive Thru.”  Last week the entire list was focused on technology. Reading it back, it did seem to get a little bit repetitive. There was a lot of talk about speakers and timers. This week we take a look at Daniel’s thoughts on the operations and design side of the drive-thru. These are two much more general categories that should offer a greater deal of interest (for both me and you).


76- Instead of reading the entire order to the customer, only ask them to confirm their order on the screen. This spurs faster service.

This is great for drive-thrus with the order confirmation screen; however there are still a lot without.  Reading back the order should be done so that the person can actually process it in their head.

77- In the absence of an order-confirmation screen, repeat the order to the customer at the order post to ensure accuracy.

As stated in #76.

78- Immediately after confirming the order with the customer, provide the full total denoting dollars and cents.

For some reason this is a forgotten step more often than not. Most times, the person’s next stop is behind a car in front of them and not the paying window. Give them the information they need to quicken the transaction.

79- Provide the next step. Sometimes a second window is open to collect payment; sometimes it is not. Clearly direct the customer to the next step.

During off-peak hours drive-thrus will not open the two windows (if they have them).  In these scenarios, it is important to tell them to proceed to the 1st or 2nd window.  If the 2nd window, a sign should be place at the 1st one directing them forward as well.

80- When handing the order to the customer, review the order with confidence.

Confidence?  Confidence isn’t something you can fake.  You are either ‘confident’ you got the order right or you’re not.  If you are, the tone should come out naturally.  Don’t speak slowly, but speak clearly.

81- Customers respond favorably to outside order takers, a more personal system that serves as a line-busting technique during peak hours.

Depending on how you handle it, this could mean additional investments in technology and manpower.  If you do introduce this approach, make sure it is clear to your customers what they do or say when they get to the actual drive-thru menu board.

82- If there is an opportunity to get an order into the kitchen sooner, take it. The move will deliver the speed drive-thru customers crave.

When you break it down, you are always at the mercy of the person in front of you.  They could get my order for two burgers and fries in right away but I am not going anywhere until the car in front of me gets his order for 5 people.

83- Streamline the drive-thru process into three parts: greeting and order; money exchange, receipt, and condiments; and, finally, food delivery.

Again, this depends on your setup.  If you have two windows, the ‘money exchange, receipt, and condiments’ is a good idea at the first window.  I fact, you could even include soft drinks, but if you only have the one window, it simply isn’t possible.  Take the money and then hand over the rest at once.

84- Combo meals are a great way to order in one step and heighten the value perception. Place them side-by-side in a prominent spot on the menu board.

This is Fast Food 101.  Bundle stuff together, sell more of what you have and yes, it makes ordering a lot easier.

85- If breakfast is over, switch the drive-thru signage to the lunch and dinner menu. If cheeseburgers are not available before 10 a.m., hide that piece of the menu. Rotating the menu signage ensures a crisp look and allows the customer to focus on the available offerings.

Having day-part capabilities with your drive-thru is a nice feature.  Swapping graphics and items is easy enough, but not something you want to do every day.  A lot of drive-thru panels are built on a swivel so that you can turn the cabinet around for given day-parts.  Most restaurants however, serve everything all day, with McDonald’s being the most obvious exception.

86- Double up on staff and even key equipment, such as the soda fountain and register, to ensure swift service during peak times.

If the volume calls for it, do it!  However, let the sales and data lead you to this best practice.  As we’ve said in the past, you shouldn’t “build it, and hope they come.”

87- On-the-go, multitasking drive-thru consumers want packaging that keeps food safe and contained. Identify packaging that protects the product and the customer’s lap.

Umm, ya… don’t put it in a wet paper bag.  Maybe he is reaching to get to his 100 here.

88- Customers are on to your attempts to keep drive-thru times down. If their order takes longer than expected, send them to designated drive-thru parking spots and offer a free beverage instead of having them simply pull forward and wait.

You’d be best served to let them know that their order may take some time at the moment they place it rather than the surprise at the window.  Based on the size of the order and the specific item(s) this shouldn’t be an issue.  The free beverage is a nice gesture, though.

89- Participants in a 2010 QSR drive-thru focus group widely agreed that having an employee bring an order to the car was a plus. As much as tech dominates today’s lives, the personal touches continually resonate with customers.

How else would the food get to the car?

90- Carhops can not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but they can expedite service, take orders and payment, and hand completed orders to customers.

This all depends on the make-up of your location.  Technology was developed for a reason; to minimize waste and streamline services.  More people = more overhead.  If they want nostalgia they should go to a location whose brand represents it.

91- Maximize the order taker’s comfort and limit distractions by placing this team member in a space away from the restaurant’s hustle and bustle.

Like when looking for a new house, you have to make some concessions.  You love the kitchen, but the on-suite bathroom is a little small.  What I am getting at is, don’t choose a location because of this and don’t go breaking down walls to include it, but if you have the room, have at it!

92- Team members should state the amount of change they are returning to the customer and count back that amount.

This is a nice gesture but one that really isn’t necessary.  Speed, speed, speed.

93- Install signage that highlights new items as well as promotional offers or special pricing. Signage can also display high-margin items to entice a purchase.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  If you work with the right menu board company, they should be able to help you with this.

94- Institute a special drive-thru value meal complete with drive-thru-friendly items easy to eat while driving.

I like the idea but I am wondering what type of items he had in mind.  No matter what the item, it should be wrapped and bagged so the drive will still have to compete with that – hopefully NOT while driving.

95- Run drive-thru-only drink promotions to increase higher-margin beverage sales.

A promotion like this would have to be combined with something else on order.  The last thing you would want is your drive-thru being bogged down with beverage-only orders.


96- Position a duplicate menu board before the order post so that guests can peruse the menu as they wait. This reduces a customer feeling rushed into ordering and allows a full review of options. It also improves speed once they arrive at the order post.

Drive-thrus are not cheap, not by any stretch.  Further, an exact duplicate would be sure to cause some confusion.  You are better off using a smaller pre-sell menu board to increase the speed of service and sales.

97- Push the car to the drive-thru window by narrowing the road.

Do this at your own risk.  I would rather my customers and employees meet in the middle with a lean rather than having cars scratching up against my building.  Daniel must be a good driver and has forgotten about the amount of poor and very poor drivers there are out there.

98- Tight bends and any changes in direction cause drivers to be frustrated and misguided. Make the lane smooth and gradual.

He seems to contradict #97 here.  You certainly want to make sure that the drivers are comfortable and not squeezing the wheel.

99- To maximize double drive-thrus, add extra signage to encourage drivers to use the left lane in addition to the traditional right lane.

You can encourage all you want, but if you are driving in the car by yourself, it may be difficult to reach over and make payment and accept the food

100- Starting with the kitchen, design everything for speed and accuracy.

There are companies that can help you with this or, for starters, use a spaghetti diagram to help you out.

101- On a new build, position the restaurant to the left to segregate customer parking and retain maximum room on the right side for drive-thru operations.

If at all possible you do want your drive-thru to be separate from the parking lot to prevent bottlenecks from forming from indoor customers and making it easier for everyone to enter and exit from the restaurant.

Additional Tip from us: When you pull out of a drive-thru you pull out with your bag of food.  In that bag, beyond the meal, cutlery and napkins should be something that encourages a return; a monthly offer, a coupon, a loyalty program, etc.

There you have it.  1-101 is in the books.  Overall, I think Daniel P. Smith did a great job putting these thoughts and ideas together.  Although we differ on some it comes down to how you think each would impact you.

Want to bounce some ideas off of us?  We’d love to hear from you.  Give us a call today at 888-235-2579!