BONUS CONTENT: Drive-Thru Lessons From QSRs


NATIONAL REPORT — Drive-thru customers are looking for a good experience at the drive-thru and for a chain to achieve this, it must provide a combination of speed of service, order accuracy, good communication, and an easily navigated menuboard, according to Tom Cook, principal at King-Casey, a retail consulting and design firm based in Westport, Conn.

“It used to be speed of service was the No. 1 stated need of customers in the drive-thru, and QSR Magazine’s Annual Drive-Thru Survey always showed speed of service as first,” Cook explained. “But order accuracy is much more important than speed, at this point. If you drive off and have the wrong order, you are one unhappy customer.”

Cook believes the convenience store industry — especially those with a focus on fresh food — can learn a lot from the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry when it comes to drive-thru execution and excellence. He points to Starbucks, Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A as three QSR brands that c-store operators should watch because they are getting it right.

“Starbucks is a client of ours and they made a conscious decision to get into the drive-thru business,” Cook said, explaining that in addition to a wayfinding system that includes drive-thru signage and a green stripe indicating how to navigate the area, Starbucks installed digital screens so customers can see the barista and vice versa, as well as digital menuboards.

“With the digital menuboards, Starbucks is able to communicate in real time what is available in the bakery and remove the items sold out for the day,” he said. “From an overall customer experience standpoint, they are doing the best job.”

At Panera Bread, what stands out is the staged zoned merchandising, including multiple messages to customers in the drive-thru before they get to the main menuboard, according to Cook. With this signage, Panera Bread is able to pre-sell items, including a limited-time offer or a special sandwich or drink they want to promote, he explained.

“It helps Panera sell the items they want to sell, but it also helps the customer decide what they want before they get to the menuboard,” he added.  

In terms of a top menuboard experience, Cook said Chick-fil-A may not be using digital boards, but the content on their menuboards is optimized from a business perspective and very clear, simple and easy to read for customers. The chain put “a lot of thought into where things are placed, how much space is given, how much white space to use, etc.,” he said.

“They have their entire menu up there, but it’s very clean and organized,” he continued. “They only show pictures of key products that are bestsellers, and the rest is just listed.”

Editor’s note: Look in the October issue of Convenience Store News for our full report on “The Next Frontiers for Convenience, which covers drive-thru, mobile ordering and delivery.