See it, Hear it, Time It

By  Katie Morell, Contributing Editor | October 14, 2011

Quick service restaurants are focusing on the drive-thru as a revenue generator, and new advancements in technology are helping with that effort, specifically in the areas of headsets, timers, and menu board improvements.


Headsets improve communication

Quail Digital is one company in the headset space that, in August 2010, came out with the Q-Pro5, a wireless head set that weighs 100 grams and offers extreme sound clarity. Amrik Singh, owner and operator of the Dairy Queen on Oakdale Road in Modesto, California, uses Quail’s technology and raves about it.

“We adopted Quail’s system about six months ago and it is 10 times better than what we were using,” he says. “Before, we had customers that could not hear us in the drive-thru; now we are able to have full conversations with our customers. The head set operates just like a phone.”

Roy Getz, partner and owner of Raising Cane’s franchisee RCO Limited, recently switched from analogue headsets to digital and says he sees an improvement. “We’ve experienced a lot of clarity and it helps with our accuracy issues and stress,” says Getz of his six stores throughout central Ohio. “When you can’t hear someone, it creates a stressful environment.”


Timers reduce stress

Stress can also come from time constraints placed on order takers, a metric that restaurants take very seriously. For example, employees at Raising Cane’s are given bonuses partly based on order times. “Our target is two minutes or less during peak times,” says Getz, adding that the company uses Fast Track timer software, recently acquired by Delphi Display Systems.

“Our timer is on display in the restaurant so everyone on staff can see it,” he says. “It is color coded, so if you are at one minute and a half, the screen changes from green to red. If you go over two minutes, it lets the crew know.”

HyperActive Technologies is another technology leader in the QSR drive-thru space. The company is most known for HyperActive Bob, a point-of-sale software that helps employees predict when and what types of orders will come in, and the QTimer, which helps track drive-thru timing. Earlier this year, the company announced that its technology will use a new speed-of-service metric called “Dynamic Drive-Thru.”

Here’s how it works: The metric looks at the contents within a food order and the orders of the vehicles queued in front to dynamically create the service goal for each vehicle in the queue. If one vehicle has an order that contains five entrées versus another vehicle whose order has only one entrée, the five entrée order may take a greater amount of time to fulfill. Using the estimated order fulfillment time and the same information for all vehicles in front of it, Dynamic Drive-Thru will calculate an expected service window time for the vehicle. If that service window time exceeds the goal setting substantially, and the following vehicle(s) have an expected service window time that is within its goal, Dynamic Drive-Thru will suggest that the five entrée vehicle be pulled forward, if that’s an acceptable policy at the restaurant.


Growth in digital displays  


On the menu board side of the business, many QSRs are beginning to go digital, but others still have reservations primarily based on cost. According to LCD manufacturer NEC Display Solutions, outdoor acrylic menu boards can run a franchise around $250 and up, but digital menu boards can cost into the thousands. It is this pricing that is preventing widespread adoption.

Franchisees who’ve embraced digital menu boards are taking advantage of a breadth of options in the drive-thru, however. For example, digital menu boards allow franchisees to integrate video into their offerings so instead of customers viewing static images, a restaurant can play brand-consistent video showing dynamic content. In addition, digital menu boards can remind customers to follow companies on Twitter and Facebook for future deals, all with icons that can be switched out at a moment’s notice.

NEXTEP Systems is taking digital menu boards to another level. In 2006, the company launched an outdoor touch screen drive thru system for QSRs. They’ve been working with two brands (including Subway restaurants) and the company’s technology is in 50 restaurants across 20 states. If customers get confused, there is a push-to-talk system, a new feature as part of the technology’s third generation. The newest feature also includes a security camera.

Rob Woodward is a franchisee of 25 Subway restaurants across Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, and was part of NEXTEP Systems’ pilot group in 2006. “It went really well and we’ve been using it ever since,” he says. “Our sales quickly rose by 30 percent.”

Why the dramatic change? Woodward says touch screens are especially favorable for QSRs with complicated ordering options, like Subway. “For us, there is so much communication that goes into making a sandwich, and it is very expensive to have someone sit on a speaker; they get prone to making mistakes,” he says. “Using NEXTEP has helped us cut our labor costs by 40 hours because we don’t have to have someone inside the store writing down orders and talking to people in the drive-thru.”

Touch screen technologies in drive-thrus bring up questions of safety. Is it possible that a driver could lose focus and take their foot off the gas? Woodward says no. “We’ve never had any safety problems; we’ve only had positive comments from customers.”   

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