What a Fully Functional Drive-Thru Looks Like

Depending on what you read or who you talk to, the amount of quick-service traffic that is funneled through the drive-thru tends to range between 60 and 70%.  Even if on the low end (60%) we are talking about some significant numbers.  The reason for this is one part convenience and another part laziness, however, the way it should be interpreted is that the majority of QSR customers prefer to use the drive-thru.  Shed in another light, to enhance customer satisfaction, put a drive-thru up at your location.  In addition, drive-thrus grab you sales that you would otherwise not get; the mother with 3 young kids in the car, the unseasonable cold weather, the unattractive wardrobe someone’s rocking, or whatever it may be, a drive-thru dissipates any and all of these types of concerns.

There is nothing earth shattering to what you just read.  The idea of using a drive-thru to increase revenue and customer satisfaction is an idea that long preceded me being in the industry.  The area that becomes a little bit fuzzy for folks is “what do I actually need for a drive-thru?”  There are a lot of separate parts that make up a fully functional drive-thru – many that people don’t even realize.  Let me break these items down for you.

The drive-thru menu board itself

This is what you see when you pull up to place your order.  Most drive-thru menu boards look similar, using back-lighting and a combination of food images, menu items and pricing to present the offerings.  When it comes time to purchase the unit, be sure to ask about warranty information, design services and installation requirements.  Also, the usability is very important.  When it comes time to increase or decrease a price, or remove or add an image, how is that accomplished?  How easy is it to do?  Acquire this information before you acquire the drive-thru.

Speaker post & speaker/microphone

In most cases the speaker post is an external component from the drive-thru.  This is what you speak in to for ordering.  Naturally, the speaker and microphone reside inside this post.  Using a post rather than having the speaker/mic inside the drive-thru increases voice clarity between you and the order taker.  The only time you should have it as a part of the drive-thru is if your location makes it impossible to do so.  Besides, with an on-board speaker/mic, your available real-estate for graphics is decreased.  Lastly, in a traditional scenario, the placement of your speaker post should be in front of the drive-thru and slightly to the left.  This minimizes car noise interference and allows everyone in your car a good look at the sign.

Pre-formed or saw-cut loop

Have you ever wondering how people know you are sitting at their drive-thru?  Some think it is a camera, some think it is infrared sensor, some think it is a pressure hose and some think they just look out the window.  However in most cases there is a magnetic, inductive loop in the ground that senses your metal car above it, sending a signal inside.  This pre-formed or saw-cut loop is buried 2 inches below the surface in the pavement of the traffic lane.  The ‘loop’ is a continuous wire that is ‘looped’ in pavement in a rectangular fashion and enters and exits at the same point.

Vehicle detector

This device works in conjunction with the loop.  It resides inside and transmits the signal being sent from the loop to the base station to the headset that is being worn by your employee.

Headsets, batteries, chargers

In many cases, people refer to the communication system as ‘headsets’ when they are but one piece of the puzzle.  Nowadays you have the choice of a belt-pac headset system or an all-in-one headset system.  The belt-pac system has the controls on your waist with a cord that runs up to a lighter headset.  The all-in-one is pretty self-explanatory.  With the price of all-in-one units continuing its march towards par with belt-pacs, they are becoming more and more popular.  The number of headsets you need is determined by your perceived drive-thru volume and how you plan to use the system.  You would never want to have less than two headsets in the event that one fails on you.  Having an extra headset on hand also is useful when it comes to training.  The more current systems allow for managers to listen in and override or step in if they feel necessary.

Base station

This is the hub of the entire operation.  Communication from all aspects of your drive-thru system are channeled through your base station.  The speaker and microphone, the loop and vehicle detector, and the headsets themselves all tie in to the base station/center module.  It resides inside and is what makes everything functional.

Installation requirements

There tends to be a lot of red tape if you do not have a permit to erect a drive-thru.  To give you any definitive information would be misleading because every city, town and village have varying requirements and ordinances.  With that being said, when gathering information about a possible drive-thru installation, you can expect a representative from a menu boards company to pay a visit to your location to check out the traffic pattern, the actual landscape that may be disrupted as well as your parking availability and where the sign is actually going to be placed.

Once you have the permit and you are going to install* the drive-thru, you’ll need a dedicated conduit running from inside (where you’ll have the base station) out to the drive-thru for power supply.  Another conduit will be needed for the speaker/microphone and loop wire.  Also, be sure to get the necessary footings prior to the drive-thru and speaker post arriving so that the appropriate concrete can be laid and settled.

*Assumes traditional 1 drive-thru, 1 speaker post set-up

Add-ons - order confirmation, timer systems, pre-sell menu board

There are other add-ons that you can have as a part of the drive-thru system.  All of them have value but at the same time have to make sense to your operation.

Order Confirmation: Commonly seen at Taco Bell and Wendy’s, order confirmation screens definitely help with minimizing food waste and increasing order accuracy and overall profitability.  When your volume is significant, this is very much recommended, however they are not cheap.  Typically the speaker and microphone will be in the same pedestal.  Keep in mind that these are more of a function of your POS system and not your communication system.     

Timer System: A timer system clocks the duration it takes for a car to place an order until it receives the food.  Additional intervals can be added if you have more than one window for payment.  Timers are great for goal setting and holding people accountable, however an unnamed timer rep once told me “the idea is great, but it tends to end up being nothing more than a $2,500+ window dressing.”  Therefore, if you do purchase a timer system, be sure to continue to take advantage of their benefits as they relate to productivity.

Pre-sell Menu Board: These menu boards are placed before the main drive-thru unit.  It allows you to highlight specials, promotions and limited time offers to the cars that are in queue.  Again, if your drive-thru traffic calls for it, this could be a ‘win’ when it comes to gaining some incremental sales.

To Summarize:

  • There are several elements that make up a fully functional drive-thru.
  • Before deciding to add a drive-thru, establish your budget to see if it is doable and check with your town to see if you are even able to put one up (and what the regulations might be).
  • If your location once had a drive-thru you are a few steps ahead in the game – a loop may already exist, and the permit is usually much easier to attain.
  • Before purchasing all the ‘bells and whistles’ for a drive-thru, separate your needs list, from your wish list; this could save you a lot of money.

Wondering what size drive-thru will work for your location or how many headsets you might need?  Give us a call today at 888-235-2579 and we’ll do our best to help you out!