Ways to Improve Your Drive-thru – Part 1

Just over a year ago in October of 2011, QSR Magazine published an article by Daniel P. Smith titled “100 Ways to Improve Your Drive Thru.”  For the most part he has some insights that, if instituted, will surely improve your drive-thru operation.  On the other hand, there are some head scratchers as well.  In this first part of a four-part series, I am going to delve into numbers 1-25 and give you my expanded take on each item.

Customer Service

1- From the full order of food and beverages to the utensils, provide the customer with everything he needs the first time. Frustrations arise when something is forgotten.

This could be conceived as a “no-brainer” considering no one should intentionally short change the customer with anything related to the order.  A good way to prevent this is by going through a verbal checklist with the customer. “Your burgers and fries are in this bag and the salad, all of the utensils and ketchup is in this bag.”

2- Mistakes happen; it’s inevitable. In the event of an inaccurate order, correct the error by embracing responsiveness, responsibility, and action.

Do not get defensive and shoulder the blame. Apologize once when the inaccuracy is mentioned and again when you hand over what was missing.  MOST people are understanding and will appreciate the sincerity and hustle.

3- Greet with a friendly, enthusiastic, two-part greeting. “Welcome to Burger Palace. May I take your order?”

This depends on your stance. Most of the newer communication systems have auto-greeters that allow you to promote and reinforce specials and limited time offers (LTOs). For instance, Burger King is currently running an LTO for the mini Cinnabon for $1. The greeting may sound like, “Welcome to Burger King, remember for a limited time our delicious Cinnabon are just $1.  May I take your order?”

4- “Please” and “thank you” spark feelings of appreciation and build loyal customers.

You can never go wrong with overdoing the “please” and “thank you’s.”  Good manners translate with all walks of life and people generally warm up to those who are polite.

5- Direct drive-thru staff to share sincere smiles and make eye contact with guests.

If you are taking the orders, attach a smile with the voice they overhear on the communication system. Just like the guy who gets dressed up to work from his home office; dressing, feeling and acting the part tends to have a positive impact on customer relations.

6- People love their dogs, and distributing canine treats (although not alongside human food) can be a simple effort to distinguish your operation.

This one I am a little bit skeptical of. In fact, I am not sure of the legality of doing this in some instances.  I agree that people do love their pets, so much so that they are particular about what they feed them. And how do you even determine if there is a dog in the car?  This would only slow down the turnaround time.

7- Who wants to eat a salad by hand or use his dry-cleaning receipt as a napkin? Provide the appropriate amount of napkins, utensils, and condiments.

The more the better; fast food restaurants have never been guilty of using the “good stuff.” One ounce of liquid seems to make most of these napkins shrivel up quicker than the legs of the Wicked Witch of the West in the “Wizard of Oz.”

8- With simple words, such as “Thanks for coming. We’ll see you again soon,” staff plants the seeds of a return visit in a customer’s mind.

Beyond the verbal seed that is planted, you could point to a survey (typically a link on the receipt) that if filled out, they would get ‘x’ amount off their next order thus incentivizing them to return.

9- Customers are clamoring for healthier options in the quick-service sector, so showcase items that incorporate a healthy message.

To me this should be under the “Design” section of the list. This is where using high-quality images and buzz words like “fresh” would have an impact on the customer.

10- Place the order post as close to the customers as possible to enhance the ease of two-way communication.

The placement of the speaker post is critical. 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 onboard 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.

11- Offer breakfast. According to Technomic’s 2009 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report, 22 percent of consumers named the availability of drive-thru service as one of the top three reasons they visit their preferred breakfast restaurant.

This is an interesting fact.  On the surface I get it.  People are running to work and want to pick up a quick bite and coffee without having to get out of the car, especially in the colder months.  With that said, we’ve talked about being who you are in the past and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to open or add another entire course to your menu.

12- Greet the customer within five seconds of the car stopping at the order post.

Again, most communication systems will automatically greet the customer within a predefined time frame that the car is over the loop in the ground.  Although some may be turned off by the auto-greeter, the benefits outweigh the alternative.  Just be sure to make the greeting sound happy and personal.

Drive-Thru Menu Boards13- Drive-thru staff should start the ordering process rather than relying on guests to initiate the order.

There is no question that you do not want the person at the drive-thru wondering “what is going on here?”  If you are manning the headset, the initial contact is very important.

14- As much as the drive thru is about speed, allow guests time to review the menu should they need that opportunity. Be patient and say, “Please order when ready.”

Not only does this make the customer more comfortable, it should make you more comfortable.  It will afford you the time to prep other orders and when the time comes for them to tell you what they want, the message should be delivered in a more organized manner.

15- Using “what” questions encourages upselling. For example, “What would you like to drink with your cheeseburger?” The alternative, “Would you like a drink today?” fails to invite a drink purchase in the same way.

Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other.  If I want a drink I’ll tell you.  Now if you ask, “would you like to add a medium soda to your order for just $0.50,” then I may find a home for it even if I wasn’t planning on it.

16- A simple sign that thanks guests for their business as they pull away completes the process in an appreciative way.

These signs should look similar to the other directional signs at your location (enter/exit).  Keeping it consistent will reinforce your brand and does make for a nice little sendoff.

17- When receiving money from guests, say, “Thank you.” Today’s customers have innumerable options, but they’ve selected your establishment. Show appreciation.

I think we have stressed the importance of manners ad nauseum at this point.

18- When using a crew to line bust during peak times, distribute a paper menu to allow guests the time and information to complete their order. The same idea can introduce promotions.

Love this idea.  I have always been a huge proponent of stuffing coupons and take-out menus in the bag as well.  You don’t have to break the bank.  Getting thousands of two-tone paper menus is very reasonable.  This will bring people back and speed up future transactions.

19- Toss a hard candy or mint into the customer’s to-go bag.

This is another allergy alert, however, restaurants cannot be sensitive to every allergy that exists in the world.  I have seen this done where the mint started to melt next to the hot food.  I’d pass on this idea.

20- Clean the windshields of waiting cars. No one does this, which is precisely why you should.

Well no one is riding a bicycle on the interstate and I don’t plan on doing it.  You know that feeling when someone is washing your windshields at a busy intersection – “please don’t come to my car,” or “oh shoot here he comes,” or “dang it, now do I have to tip him.”  Why would you want your customers to have that kind of anxiety?  Plus, it is just more manpower you’ll have to pay for.


21- Visit your own drive thru to see the process from a customer’s eyes. Bring a video camera along to record and later review the experience.

Awareness is curative and no better way of becoming aware and taking corrective action than by going through the drive-thru and taking a look.

22- Visit other drive thrus with a critical eye and attention to detail.

See my response to #21.

23- Learn and improve by taking the lessons of drive-thru visits to heart. Be objective and strategic in analyzing strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate goal is to be professionally aware, not personally correct.

 Now we’re on to something; see my response to #21 AND #22.

24- Knowledge is power. With data that represents current efficiency, management can make operational adjustments to improve drive-thru throughput.

Making changes to plug holes or based on gut feelings is a surefire way to allow the bad to become worse.  The notion of letting data guide the way is the proven method to making changes for the better.

25- Employee recognition and incentive programs for both speed and accuracy can motivate staff to provide swift service.

This is the drive-thru utopia but it is difficult to achieve both in a drive-thru operation.  As we inch towards some technology recommendations we’ll address how this has become more feasible in recent years.

Additional tip from us: When handing over the change, place the coins in the persons hand first then the receipt and bills.  Haven’t we all had enough of all the loose change playing a game of slip-n-slide?

My thoughts on 26-50 are coming your way next week, but if you have read both the article and this blog and have some questions give us a call today at 888-235-2579!