Wendy's Wants To Build The Best Drive-Thru

While everyone argues about Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s is transforming the drive-thru experience.

QSR Magazine's recently released 2022 Drive-Thru Report has revealed the latest data on something we all love to grumble about: which fast food chains have the longest wait times in the drive-thru lane. One notable takeaway is that while Chick-fil-A sits dead last as the slowest drive-thru clogged with the most cars, its customers aren't actually all that unhappy with the situation—the chain still scores high on customer satisfaction ratings. But the true underdog here, as evidenced by the report, is Wendy's. Little does the average consumer realize that Wendy's is making lots of changes to improve its to-go experience.

Chick-fil-A’s long, slow drive-thru line

Let's look closer at Chick-fil-A's numbers: the report cites an average service time of 325.47 seconds, which includes the time spent waiting to order and then the time spent waiting to receive the food. In the face of these numbers, fans of the brand were quick to defend the chicken chain and supply plenty of anecdotal evidence in its favor. One user tweeted, "This is cap [sic]. Chik Fil A definitely has the fastest. They be on it with the people on tablets."


Although it's accurate to award Chick-fil-A the distinction of having the slowest drive-thru among other major fast food chains, there's some context that needs to be considered with that. The study showed that Chick-fil-A has, on average, the most cars in its drive-thru (around five) when a customer pulls in, whereas other chains have between one and three—so the wait time broken down on a per-car basis is technically speedier.

A full 16% of Chick-fil-A customers said there were 10+ cars ahead of them in the drive-thru when they pulled in; no other chain hit above 2% in that category. Yet in spite of that, Chick-fil-A scored 93% in speed-of-service satisfaction among survey respondents, QSR Magazine explains. It seems like Chick-fil-A customers are, in a sense, trained to expect this wait time and don't consider it a flaw.


How Wendy’s is updating its to-go ordering experience

So, where does Wendy's rank in all this? Based on the QSR data and customer survey, the burger chain is doing fairly well. Its average service time is lower than Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, and Carl's Jr., but higher than Burger King, Arby's, and Taco Bell. With an average of three cars in its drive-thru line, Wendy's looks to be performing fine in terms of speed. But as the Chick-fil-A data shows, it's not all about speed.


Deepak Ajmani, chief operations officer for Wendy's U.S., told QSR that the brand focuses on a combination of accuracy, convenience, and speed in the drive-thru (as we hope all fast food chains do). With those goals in mind, Wendy's has made a number of updates to its to-go system. For example, it's testing out separate windows and pickup points for delivery drivers to thin out the amount of cars waiting at the regular drive-thru lane.

The brand is taking a similar approach to Chick-fil-A by assigning employees with ordering tablets to walk alongside the drive-thru lane taking orders to speed up wait times. The newest Wendy's locations will also have dedicated parking spots for both mobile orders and delivery drivers, as well as mobile order pickup shelving within the dining area so customers can grab and go without having to stop over at the register.


Shaping customer habits is another piece of the puzzle. Wendy's consistently promotes the use of its app and encourages customers to place mobile orders so that they can schedule a pickup time and grab their food when its ready rather than wait in the drive-thru lane. Behind the curtain, the chain has also added video screens that better indicate which orders are for dine-in, pickup, and drive-thru; this should, in theory, improve order accuracy.

Although these changes did not place Wendy's at the top of the pack for this most recent drive-thru study, some of the chain's updates only just started being implemented after their August unveiling. It will take time to truly gauge whether these changes impact the customer experience at Wendy's in a positive or negative way, but if Chick-fil-A's adoring fans are any indication, customers are going to love the new tablet-based drive-thru procedures.