The drive-thru plays a crucial role in QSR operations and has only seemed to grow in popularity in recent years. Throughout the pandemic, drive-thru operations drastically increased in demand as consumers desperately needed an escape from the woes and boredom of quarantine. In fact, the QSR drive-thru was one of the few avenues consumers could access to order their favorite meals at the time. And they quickly discovered the advantages of this ordering channel as it not only provided them with a means of getting out of the house and grabbing a quick meal but also provided them with the convenience and contactless experience they desperately needed.
Today, roughly two years since COVID restrictions were lifted, QSR brands are still experiencing an impressive surge in drive-thru ordering. However, as advantageous as an increase in drive-thru customers may seem, it has actually resulted in longer lines, slower speeds of service, and a decrease in order accuracy.
To keep up with customer demand and combat drive-thru operation woes, QSR brands quickly realized that they must implement new cutting-edge solutions not to replace their existing ones and existing employees, but rather to work with them to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and operations. And some of our favorite QSR brands are already turning the corner by installing tech-savvy solutions to bolster drive-thru strategies, ultimately changing the drive-thru game as we know it.
Facilitate Faster Service Times by Prioritizing Digital Preordering
Going to a drive-thru just to discover a line around the block is a sight for sore eyes. No consumer wants to wait in astonishingly long lines with rollercoaster wait times for a “quick” meal at the drive-thru. But this has become a reality for consumers, and QSR operators are taking the ultimate measures to combat this challenge.
One such strategy that has proven to chew through drive-thru lines is prioritizing digitally pre-ordered meals. To make this happen, some operators have been able to leverage existing solutions, like mobile ordering apps, QR codes, ordering screens, and intercoms, and pair them with new drive-thru solutions. Drive-thru operations that prioritize preorders can facilitate faster service speeds because meals can be prepped and paid for before consumers enter the line. And this strategy is already in use in drive-thru operations like Taco Bell Defy, a completely contactless drive-thru in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Taco Bell Defy understood the pain points that came with drive-thru operations and set out to create a 2-minute or less drive-thru experience. By not only prioritizing digitally pre-ordered meals, but also taking the standard 1-lane model and expanding it to 4, Taco Bell Defy was able to overcome the challenges that drive-thru operations produce and has created a rapid experience that accurately fulfills orders.
Increase Order Accuracy by Leveraging Artificial Intelligence
Another innovative solution that has been making waves in the drive-thru lane is the use of artificial intelligence. And no, artificial intelligence in the QSR drive-thru does not mean the use of physical robots facilitating every part of operations. Rather, AI is something you will experience, but may not physically see. Artificial intelligence can be used in the drive-thru to detect and recognize when cars enter the line and their place in line. It can be used to detect customer voices at the point-of-sale/intercom system, accurately take orders, and relay it to the kitchen staff. Most of all, brands can leverage artificial intelligence for data control and receive crucial information about the customers they serve like favorite meals, preferred payment methods, visit and spending behavior, and so much more.
Brands that leverage AI, like Panera, have been able to maximize efficiency, order accuracy, and speed of service. Last year, Panera Bread began testing drive-thru artificial intelligence to enhance customer experiences. And what they created was a proprietary voice AI ordering technology called “Tori”. Panera states that “Tori” drive-thru AI will decrease customer wait times, increase order accuracy, and allow employees to focus on the most important factor to operations: the guest.
At the end of the day, brands in all industries are not implementing new and innovative technologies in their drive-thru to replace employees and existing solutions. Rather, it is being implemented to assist them, work alongside them, and make their daily tasks a whole lot easier. Think about it like the self-checkout lane at your local grocery store. The self-checkout lane has not replaced grocery clerks, but rather has made their jobs much easier by reducing line sizes and facilitating faster checkout times. There will always be a living and breathing employee at the self-checkout exit to tell you “Have a good day”. And the same can be said for the restaurant, retail, and convenience industries. Brands, like Taco Bell and Panera, leveraging new and innovative solutions, like digital ordering and artificial intelligence, have been able to establish an efficient, consistent, accurate, and exceptional drive-thru experience for their customers every time. The future is now, for drive-thru operations, QSR and fast casual operators must ensure they have the proper technology to keep up with the changing times.