These fast-food restaurants have the best drive-thrus, a study says

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In fast food drive-thru lanes, every second counts. A recent study showed that Chick-fil-A had the slowest — but only because it’s so popular and there are so many cars queuing.

Taco Bell led the field with an average time of about 221 seconds, followed by Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and Arby’s. But this metric doesn’t take into account the number of cars in line. In this category, Chick-fil-A is the clear leader with 16% of lines surveyed with ten or more cars. McDonald’s, which ranked second, had just 2% with that many customers.

Based on the total time cars spent in line, Chick-fil-A was number one with an average of about 107 seconds. McDonald’s was second with 118 seconds, followed by Taco Bell and Arby’s.

QSR and Intouch Insight released their annual Drive-Thru Report, surveying more than 1,000 consumers ranked among 10 industry leaders: Wendy’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Taco Bell, and KFC.

Drive-thrus faltered last year largely due to a shortage of restaurant workers as thousands left the industry. The pandemic-driven surge in drive-thru, pickup, and delivery orders has only exacerbated the problem

But luckily for customers, drive-thrus are almost 10 seconds faster compared to last year – and that can be a huge advantage in this highly competitive industry.

“Seconds can make all the difference in where a consumer decides to place an order,” Amanda Topper, research director at Mintel, told CNN Business last year.

However, the current average is still about 45 seconds slower than the 2019 pace. The study states that advance purchase menu boards, ordering accuracy and friendliness helped reduce wait times at drive-thrus this year.

During the height of Covid, Chick-fil-A was one of the first brands to close its dining rooms and focus on bringing hospitality to the drive-thru outdoor space.

“We believe that seeing eye-to-eye with the customer enables a connection that’s formed at the beginning of the drive-thru,” said Matt Abercrombie, Chick-fil-A’s senior director of service and hospitality, in the study.

The researchers found that Chick-fil-A had refined the “checkpoint system,” which keeps customers engaged through various interactions with employees.

And that’s reflected in consumer sentiment – 88% of respondents said Chick-fil-A offers friendly service, putting it at the top of the industry. Only 1.7% said the service was “not friendly”.

But when it comes to customer satisfaction, respondents indicated that Arby’s had the most accurate order execution at 89.6%. McDonald’s and Burger King followed close behind.

Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas named the first modern drive-thru in 1970 and coined the term “pick-up window”. And although the company announced a revamp this year that puts “emphasis on convenience, speed and accuracy,” it lagged behind its peers in the survey.

The chain plans to redesign its interiors, implementing new pickup windows and a more technologically advanced kitchen.

The pandemic has opened up new consumer demand for the drive-through and has pressured fast-food companies to improve signage, sanitation and technology.

In the survey, Wendy’s ranked 7th for speed of service and was also lowest for order accuracy at 79.4%. CNN Business has reached out to Wendy’s for comment.


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