Skip to content

Drive-Thru Technology: From Digital Menus to Artificial Intelligence

ai

According to Merriam-Webster, Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of computer science that simulates intelligent behavior in computers, allowing machines to perform complex tasks previously reserved for humans

There are 660,755 locations of quick service restaurants (QSRs) & full-service restaurants (FSRs) in the US, and total sales grew from $825 billion in 2018 to $863 billion by the end of 2019. Off-premise sales, which include delivery, takeout, drive-thru, and catering, represented 38% of total sales in 2018 and grew by 5.6% in 2019. QSRs make up 346,105 of this total and had 2018 sales of $256 billion, 70% of which came from drive-thru alone. By the end of 2019, QSRs grew by 4.9%, which is slower than the 5.1% growth the previous year but still faster than the 3.4% growth of FSRs for the same time period.

As off-premise ordering increases, drive-thru restaurants will need to find ways to maintain food quality, improve order accuracy and increase speed of service. Quick service and fast casual chains that do not have a robust technology deployment strategy run the risk of damaging their reputations. As more QSR operators balance dine-in orders with the multitude of ways consumers can now make a take-out order, they risk overlooking drive-thrus as a way to bridge the gap. Some chains, like Chipotle, are rethinking their drive-thrus as mobile order pickup stations, while others, like McDonald’s, are implementing conversational artificial intelligence software to increase check averages.

According to Vinay Shukla & Rahul Aggarwal, founders of artificial intelligence startup ConverseNow, the order-to-service time is too long for drive-thru customers, leading to more lines and an inconsistent experience. With their company, Shukla and Aggarwal aim to improve the drive-thru experience from both inside and outside the window. .

Challenges With Drive-Thru

From the outside-window perspective, menus are becoming more complex, the result being inaccurate order taking and longer wait times. QSR Magazine’s 2019 Drive-Thru Performance Study shows that order accuracy dropped to an average of 84.4%. These major challenges amount to a $26 billion loss in the US alone. Also, the demanding work environment within fast food restaurants is resulting in more workers quitting than ever before. Turnover is currently 130%, with hiring and training costs amounting to over $2,800 for a 3-month period for each new employee.

Speed of service is the most critical metric when it comes to the drive-thru. The average order time was 9% higher for 2019 over the previous year, with an average wait time of 255.34 seconds, but there is huge variation across the industry. Dunkin’ was the fastest in 2019, taking 216.75 seconds to complete an order, and Chick-fil-A was the slowest at 322.98 seconds.

Want to learn more on how ordering intelligence increases operational efficiency & improves the bottom line of your restaurant business? Take a look at our exclusive document.

Contact Us