Speeding up the Drive-Thru

By Christina Volpe, Associate Editor | September 08, 2009

The drive-thru is truly at the heart of quick service restaurant (QSR) sales, and at the heart of the drive-thru is speed and accuracy. Increasing these two elements, and not at the expense of the other, is an ongoing goal for QSRs, and many are using efficiency-generating technologies to hit the mark.

"You have drive-thrus for speed, and if you cannot deliver [on that promise of speed] then you should not have a drive-thru," says Kerry Campbell, director of brand standards and restaurant support services for Church's Chicken (www.churchs.com). The restaurant operator makes good on this promise, in part, through order confirmation boards and drive-thru timers.

In more than 200 corporate locations, AccuView order confirmation boards and Acclaro drive-thru timers from Texas Digital (www.txdigital.com) enable management to grade drive-thru performance against customer-defined criteria for increased efficiency. As all operators know, increased drive-thru efficiency equates to increased drive-thru capacity and greater subsequent profits.

"Think about it: if you only get 30 cars in an hour, you know that if you can cut your time in half you are automatically going to double the cars and your revenue," says Campbell. Church's corporate locations currently average three minutes at the drive-thru, with a target of two and a half minutes.

Key to the Acclaro timer is the installation of drive-thru loops, which are activated by the presence of a vehicle at both the order confirmation board and the window. Once activated, the loops then set off both the timer and the employee's headset. The timer at the window is also color coded, providing Church's employees with a visual cue for each order: green represents good timing, yellow is a warning, and red means that you have hit the danger zone. "By having the display at the window, everyone working at the window will focus on that time," says Campbell.
Real-time reports

The biggest draw of the Acclaro system is its reporting features, which enables Church's to measure the order board, delivery, and total times for its drive-thrus to provide real-time reporting data. That data can then be pushed out across operations, a move that has raised the awareness of drive-thru times at Church's, says Campbell. 

"Every restaurant manager is responsible for the [drive-thru time] report, and what I do on top of that to make it real easy, is to pull the report and send out the Acclaro ranking report," Campbell adds.

Like Campbell, Boddie-Noell's VP of Hardee's operations, Terry Lewis stresses the significant sales opportunities at the drive-thru. Boddie-Noell (www.bneinc.com), franchisee of 350 Hardee's locations, among other brands, leverages Hyperactive Technologies' HyperView (www.gohyper.com) order confirmation boards and its QTmer drive-thru measurement technology to help speed drive-thru service.

"When [Hardees parent company] CKE contacted all of the franchisees to renew their contracts, they said that you have to install drive-thru timers and order confirmation boards within two years," recalls Lewis. "And I fought that. There is no way that a product in the wall can affect service, but now I will eat my words."  In the fourth quarter of last year, they already saw an improvement in drive-thru times in the stores that already had the solutions.

A key feature of QTimer is its real-time order and speed-of-service data reporting capabilities, as well as the visual representation of cars as they move through the drive-thru lane. The reporting is web-based and in real-time, says Lewis. The district manager and anyone in the hierarchy can go online from any computer and view the live information or look at historical data. And with that, management can meet with a district manager and look at that data to determine why cars may have waited beyond company service standards.

Another component that Hyperactive provides is the back-end dashboard. "Individuals can see the number of cars stacked in the drive-thru order and the pick-up window," says Lewis. "Each car is green, but when it gets to the danger level it turns to yellow, and then eventually to red. An operator can glance up and quickly realize if they have a problem. It is a motivator.

Although QTimer is huge component to Boddie-Noell's drive-thru strategy, it is important to note that order confirmation boards also play a big role. The boards are bright and reduce glare in the sunlight, making it easier for customers to confirm that their orders are correct, notes Lewis. "Before we had the boards we just repeated the order back to the customer, and now we have the order confirmation boards."

Another important factor, Lewis points out, is that the confirmation board's computer resides inside the restaurant as opposed to outside in the pedestal of the board. This removes the outdoor elements factor, enhancing reliability and the life of the product.

Tap & go payment
Drive-thru timers and order confirmation boards are not the only solutions driving speed at the drive-thru. Slightly over half of Whataburger's (www.whataburger.com) 500+ corporate-owned locations have completed the installation of NCR's (www.ncr.com) tap and swipe credit card readers. "We've installed the card readers at every register and at the drive-thru," says Karen Bird, Whataburger's chief information officer. "They not only quicken the ordering process, but they also give guests a sense of security because the card never leaves their hand. Guests can either tap or swipe the payment of the order themselves."

In addition to the tap and swipe readers, Bird also notes that Whataburger's Xpient Iris (www.xpient.com) point of sale (POS) system is making the order process much more efficient at the drive-thru. "In the Texas market, customers know Whataburger and they know that they can customize their burger. So if you are in a drive-thru and you want to customize your burger, having a POS system that provides an efficient order entry process helps drive accuracy and drive-thru speed of service." Whataburger's POS provides graphical elements that organize the menu and help employees move through order taking faster and more efficiently. 

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