The future of fast food drive-thru is coming early

“One of the reasons customers always felt like they had to yell into the speakerphone is because the technology in a lot of drive-thru is just poor,” says Walls. “And words fail. And you know, when you don’t want ketchup on your burger and you’re not sure whether the person heard you or not, it’s a tense moment.

It’s an industry-wide shift.

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Young consumers of QSR The magazine’s Drive-Thru study favored digital menus, saying they were easier to read due to the overall display, text size and lighting. Twenty-seven percent of those polled agreed they preferred the functionality, while 16 percent strongly agreed.

Additionally, 46% of consumers said they would like additional signage to help them make their decisions.

In another data point, about two-fifths of consumers disliked hearing an automated voice during the drive-thru tour, indicating that customers want a more personal experience.

CKE’s new read receipt signs aim to eliminate anxiety. At the menu point, they present all of CKE’s offerings and create upselling components. Walls says CKE’s technology isn’t just static menu boards turned digital. They offer the ability to innovate across the board, like AI to organize that personalization that people are clamoring for.

“The customer experience continues to evolve,” says Walls. “We’re all customers, and we all want the same thing, which is as little friction as possible in the transaction process.”

Speak QSR Drive-Thru Study magazine, just under half of the brands tested incorporated suggestive selling into their ordering process, with the largest share doing so at checkout (28 percent).

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Count CKE among the brands working on a future prototype. It makes its way to smaller dining areas and more space for things like additional drive-thru lanes, designated curbside pickup parking, and easily accessible delivery windows for third-party drivers.

One design, presumably for urban areas, offers customers the option of getting in and taking food out of a locker. “These omnichannel stores bring all of these service methods together into a single footprint that allows a very wide range of customers to interact with us however they want,” Walls said. “And I think that’s the real key here is that traditionally retail and [quick service] has always been about how we respond to the customer and hopefully they adjust to that. And today’s customer is expected to have their service needs met the way they want.

These futuristic prototypes are popping up around every corner of fast service. Many bypass the dining room entirely in favor of a drive-thru-centric design. It cuts through segments as well, with quick casuals like Shake Shack designing a three-way drive-thru all the way to Sweetgreen plotting entry into space.

Wendy’s is working on its own drive-thru store, as well as modular concepts, said U.S. COO Deepak Ajmani. Delivery, delivery and the sidewalk will be part of these restaurants. “We are deploying our creativity in the design and development of new restaurants to rethink the physical space,” he says. “We are looking to grow, evolve our new restaurants and innovate non-traditional concepts that will trigger growth. “

Ajmani has worked in the restaurant business for over 30 years, starting as an assistant manager in training. He’s been around long enough to time alongside Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. And 2020 has been as revealing as any stretch.

“The past year has shown us that drive-thru is more important than ever – something Wendy started in 1970 when we created the very first modern pickup window – and that’s one of the reasons why the [quick-service] category fared better than the concepts of catering only during the pandemic. “

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