Pandemic-fueled challenges forced consumers to wait significantly longer in drive-thru lanes at quick-service restaurants including Arby’s, Dunkin’ and Carl’s, Jr., whose speed of service times increased by more than one minute, according to the 20th annual QSR Drive-Thru Study from market research agency and mystery shopping company SeeLevel HX.
Overall speed of service at 10 quick-service chains ranked in the survey increased by nearly 30 seconds this year compared to 2019. Total time in the drive-thru increased for seven of the 10 brands ranked in the study.
It was the second consecutive year that wait times went up for these same 10 chains, according to the study.
The report tracks speed of service by combining wait time (how long it takes to order) with service time (the time it takes from placing an order to pick up). Wait times this year dragged down the total time, as service time was 16.9 seconds faster this year.
Lisa van Kesteren, SeeLeve's chief executive, said she’s not surprised that overall wait times went up this year given the “challenges” chains faced — from increased drive-thru usage to dealing with new COVID-19 safety protocols.
When jurisdictions closed dining rooms to curb the spread of COVID-19, drive-thrus became a key ordering channel. Brands also directed customers to use drive-thru lanes to pick up mobile orders, which complicated matters over the last six months.
Still, three brands were faster in 2020 and moved up in the ranks: McDonald’s, Taco Bell and KFC.
“I was really surprised to see that any brand could perform better in speed than they did last year, given all the challenges everybody had to work with,” van Kesteren told Nation’s Restaurant News in an exclusive interview.
Those brands did offer limited or bundled menus during the pandemic, which likely helped to reduce wait times this year, van Kesteren said.
SeeLevel noted that investment in digital menu board technologies also contributed to improved speed of service for some brands including McDonald's. The Chicago-based burger chain's Dynamic Yield menu boards are in more than 11,000 restaurants, the company said.
“Throughout 2020, McDonald’s has implemented new safety procedures in restaurants, simplified menus and developed new contactless ways to serve customers," the company told NRN in a statement. "Amidst these changes, drive-thru times have improved across our major markets, and we saw improved customer satisfaction scores, and better speed of service and order accuracy in many major markets. McDonald’s unmatched drive-thru penetration has allowed us to continue serving customers around the world as safely as we can through a convenient service channel."
Other brands ranked in the study include Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, Burger King and Hardee’s. To see how they ranked, click on our slide show.
Editor’s note: Total time equals wait and service times combined. There were an average of 3.2 vehicles in line when a car pulled into a drive-thru during the survey period, which took place in various parts of the country from the end of June through early August.
Join SeeLevel HX CEO Lisa van Kesteren and Nation's Restaurant News Associate Editor Joanna Fantozzi at Restaurants Rise powered by MUFSO on Thursday, Oct. 8, as they delve into the latest data and insights in fast-food drive-thru performance and COVID-19.
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