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How to Optimize Your Drive-Thru Service

In the midst of pandemic life, the drive-thru window serves as a vital source of revenue for restaurants set up to offer this service. Dining rooms across the country remain shuttered or must operate with capacity restrictions, leading customers to seek alternative methods of ordering food that limit person-to-person contact. Today, it’s common to see cars lined up around the block as they wait for drive-thru service that allows them to stay safely in their vehicles. Whether you’ve operated a drive-thru for many years or you’re adding this service in light of the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve got tips to make your service safe and efficient.

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1. Use Safety Protocols

Asian woman wearing mask and holding paper bag of fast food through the window

Visible signs of sanitation are becoming the new normal as restaurants diversify their services or reopen after a closure. You can implement these safety protocols at your drive-thru window to show your customers you're serious about taking steps to protect the health of everyone in your establishment.

  • Cashier shields - Installing cashier shields at your drive-through windows serves two purposes. The barrier between your employees and guests protects both parties, and it also acts as a visual reminder that you are serious about health and sanitation. The drive-thru window itself serves as a protective shield while it's closed, but when it’s opened, a cashier shield adds another layer of safety.
  • Contactless handoff - Get your staff familiar with using methods of contactless handoff when they serve customers. An easy way to avoid direct hand contact with guests is to use a serving tray to pass items from the drive-thru window to the customer’s car.
  • Face masks - Depending on your location, face masks may be a requirement or just a recommendation for restaurant employees. Either way, your customers will feel more secure knowing your staff wears protective masks as they prepare orders.

2. Keep Your Menu Board Updated

If you’re experiencing shortages of food items, make sure to remove those options from your drive-thru menu board right away. Keeping your menu up to date will streamline the ordering process and prevent your customers from being disappointed. It might take seconds to say, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that item,” but you can shave time off your drive-thru wait by avoiding that entire conversation.

Invest in a digital menu board and you can make changes to items and pricing immediately. Instead of taking the time to walk outside and manually update the menu board, it can be completed in mere seconds.

3. Institute Online Ordering

Online ordering for your drive-thru allows customers to place their order directly from your website and pick it up at the time of their choosing. This cuts down on your wait time and gives customers the ability to order on any of their devices, no matter where they happen to be at the time.

One of the most appealing features of online ordering is the capability for guests to customize their orders at their own pace. Instead of relying on the order taker to enter every request accurately, the order goes straight from the customer to the kitchen. Giving the guest total control over their order eliminates mistakes and increases customer satisfaction.

4. Use Touchless Payment

Touchless payment methods speed up your drive-thru time and help you avoid direct hand contact with customers. You can set up a payment option on your online ordering platform or use a tap-to-pay terminal that reads cards and mobile phones. The customer simply waves or taps their card over a contactless terminal to submit payment. This type of transaction takes seconds to perform and allows you to serve each customer as quickly as possible.

5. Visit Your Own Drive-Thru

The best way to ensure your drive-thru service is working out the way you’ve intended is to visit your own drive-thru for a test run. Go through every step of the process to observe how quickly and easily your order is prepared. Take note of how your menu board looks, determine if the drive-thru speaker can be heard clearly, and make sure your staff is observing safety protocols.

6. Keep the Drive-Thru Station Stocked

handing straws from drive-thru window

Your drive-thru window should be stocked with essential items at all times. If a staff member has to leave the window during a shift to find napkins, cup lids, or ketchup packets, it slows down your service and leaves your window unattended.

Keep all condiments and disposables close at hand and organize them for efficiency. The drive-thru window has limited countertop space, so utilize stackable condiment bins and in-counter cup dispensers designed for compact areas. With all necessary supplies in plain sight, it's less likely that anything will be forgotten. Nothing is more irksome for a customer than realizing they have to turn their car around because the straws were left out of their bag.

7. Maintain Your Drive-Thru Window

Sometimes neglected, your drive-thru window itself is the center of activity and a crucial piece of equipment. Continuous operation and exposure to the elements take their toll on the window frame, the glass, and the slide track. By instituting a cleaning and maintenance schedule, you can extend the life of your window and keep it looking its best. Inspect the frame of the window daily and remove debris, dead leaves, or any organic matter that may have become lodged in the guide track.


The coronavirus pandemic has created a shift in the restaurant industry that will most likely influence the way businesses and customers interact well into the future. Drive-thru service presents an opportunity for restaurants to take advantage of an alternate revenue stream and provide a safe, contact-free experience for your customers.

By Michale Ferguson
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