Drive-Thru Service Tips

Drive-thrus are one of the most convenient forms of takeout pickup and offer delivery fee wary customers access to off-premise dining. According to a QSR (quick-service restaurant) Magazine report, 57% of consumers would order from QSRs more often if they had drive-thrus. Whether you’ve operated a drive-thru for many years or you’re adding a drive-thru to boost profits, use our drive-thru service tips to increase your operational efficiency.

Drive-Thru Line Busting Tips

Customers waiting in their cars line up at the drive thru facility of a fast food restaurant

A well-run drive-thru offers the expediency consumers demand. According to a Technomic consumer survey, the number of quick-service restaurant orders placed in drive-thrus increased by 10% from January 2020 to August 2021. As drive-thrus become more popular, lines become longer. Learn how to line bust your drive-thru service to exceed expectations and outperform your competition.

1. Reduce and Update Your Drive-Thru Menu Board

Speed is imperative for drive-thrus, so limit your drive-thru menu to your most popular takeout friendly menu items with fast cook times. Offering fewer menu items will decrease decision-making time, and items that are quick to prepare will increase the flow of service. If you’re experiencing food shortages, remove affected menu items from your drive-thru menu board immediately.

Keeping your menu up to date will prevent disappointment and frustration. It might take seconds to say, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that item,” but it could take minutes for the customer to decide on a new order. Consider investing in a digital menu board so you can change meals and pricing immediately. Fluctuating food costs also affect menu pricing. Digital boards allow you to update pricing in a few seconds, so you're always earning a profit on your orders.

2. 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 are. According to a QSR magazine report, 49% of QSR customers would prefer to order online and use a pickup-only drive-through lane, and 42% would like to have more mobile ordering options.

3. Offer Online Menu Customization

One of the most appealing features of online ordering is it allows 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. In your mobile app, make order customization a part of your tool, but keep your menu simple. If your customers have to click through too many options, they will probably abandon their order.

4. Use Touchless Payment

Asian customer makes a contactless mobile payment at a drive-thru

Touchless payment methods speed up your drive-thru time and help you avoid direct hand contact with customers. You can set up a mobile 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. Invest in AI to Predict Drive-Thru Orders

Drive-thrus that predict your order are the future of fast service. Fast food giants like McDonald's and Burger King are already modernizing their drive-thrus with AI systems that predict orders. Drive-thru AI technology can create personalized digital promotions to boost sales, suggest foods based on daily popularity, and show customers their previous orders. Predictive ordering speeds up drive-thru window time, creating a seamless experience for guests and staff.

6. Use Face-to-Face Ordering

A great way to line bust your drive-thru is to implement face-to-face ordering. You'll need to designate two staff members to walk through the line of cars together. One will act as an order-taker, and the other will take the customer's payment. They will process the purchase at an outdoor cash register counter while the order is being prepared. Face-to-face drive-thru ordering can reduce drive-thru wait times by half that experienced at traditional speak box drive-thrus. Chick-Fil-A popularized face-to-face drive-thru ordering, and consumers ranked them as the country's favorite drive-thru in QSR Magazine's "Top 10 Drive-Thrus in the U.S." survey.

7. Stock Plenty of Drive-Thru Supplies

Drive-thru worker hands a customer a two straws from a drive-thru window

Your drive-thru window should always be stocked with essential drive-thru equipment. 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 use stackable condiment bins and in-counter cup dispensers designed for compact areas. With all necessary supplies in plain sight, it's less likely staff will forget items.

8. Implement Drive-Thru Safety Protocols

Visible signs of sanitation and advanced cleaning measures are the post-pandemic new normal. 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.
  • Air Curtains - Adding an air curtain above your drive-thru window blocks airborne contaminants, pests, and intemperate air from entering your kitchen when your staff passes orders to your customers.

9. 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. Keep drive-thru window parts and accessories on hand so you can switch up worn and damaged parts without losing business.

10. Visit Your Drive-Thru Window As a Customer

Once you've applied our drive-thru service tips, the best way to ensure your drive-thru service works well is to visit your drive-thru for a test run. Think of this as your "undercover bosses" moment. Go through every step of the process and note how easy it is to place an order and how long it takes to receive it. Assess how your menu board looks, decide whether a hearing or visually impaired customer could order at your drive-thru, and evaluate how well your staff is upholding cleanliness standards. Bring your findings back to your team and put actionable steps in place to improve areas that are lacking.

Drive-Thru Service FAQs

A.pretty young black woman smiles at a drive-thru worker while buying coffee from a drive through coffee shop

Now that you know how to line bust your drive-thru, you may have other questions about how to run an effective drive-through service. From monitoring your queue to installing a drive-thru window, we answer the most common drive-thru service questions below.

Height of Drive Thru Window

The height of drive-thru window ranges between 32" to 36" on the outside of a building.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Drive Thru?

Depending on the size of the drive-thru, it costs between $35,000 and $80,000 to build a drive-thru.

Drive-Thru Window Dimensions

While they vary by operational need, the most common drive-thru dimensions are 14" wide by 29" high. Your drive-thru window dimensions should allow you to pass your largest items to customers with ease. When in doubt, create a larger space that allows for more of a connection between your customers and staff.

Can You Walk through a Drive-Thru?

You can't walk through a drive-thru. While serving customers who walk through your drive-thru after your dining room has closed may tempt you, doing so comes at a huge safety and insurance risk. If you're a customer wondering why you can't walk through a drive-thru lane, most municipalities specifically forbid drive-thrus from servicing foot traffic. Since drive-thrus are designed for vehicles and not pedestrians, there are always safety and insurance risks of serving foot traffic, even if the law doesn't forbid it. Consider installing a takeout window so guests can pick up their orders on foot without having to enter your establishment.

How Do Drive-Thrus Know When a Car Is There?

Most drive-thrus have sensors that alert workers when a car is in front of the menu board. Workers can see vehicles through a camera, which aids in delivering the right meal to customers. If there are two order-taking lines but only one drive-thru window, the automated drive-thru system attaches a photo of the car to the corresponding order. This allows the drive-thru staff member to distinguish between the two separate order lines and give each customer the correct order.

Though uncommon and not as reliable in busy establishments, some drive-thrus don't have sensors. They count on their staff to glance out the window and check for new drive-thru customers throughout their workday. If you want to update your drive-thru and add a sensor, you can choose from a variety of popular types of drive-thru sensors, including ultrasonic, magnetic inductance, pneumatic tubes across the pavement, and infrared beams

How Do You Greet Customers at Drive-Thru?

According to data collected by the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru study, incorporating these four elements into how your staff greets and interacts with customers is essential for satisfaction:

  1. Pleasant Demeanor - Even though the customer is taking their meal to-go, they still want to experience hospitality when they interact with your drive-thru staff.
  2. Eye Contact and a Smile - Customers are most satisfied with their drive-thru experience when they feel seen by your staff members and drive away happy when the person they interacted with radiated warmth.
  3. Please and Thank You - Classic good manners never go out of style. Remind your drive-thru staff to be just as courteous with drive-thru customers as they would those placing orders inside your establishment.
  4. Order Accuracy - Personable, polite staff can make customers forgive a lot, but order accuracy plays the biggest role in customer satisfaction.

Drive-thrus help restaurants streamline their takeout services while mitigating the use of fee-heavy third-party delivery channels. Use our drive-thru tips and drive-thru service FAQs to improve your drive-thru or tap into this profitable channel.

Posted in: Management & Operation|By Michale LeRoy
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