Does America Still Need Drive-Thrus?

Drive-thrus have gotten slower and more inaccurate this year even though fewer people are using them, reports the food-industry magazine QSR, which last week released the results of its annual Drive-Thru Performance Study. Meanwhile, restaurants are trying to figure out ways to incorporate new technology into the existing drive-thru mechanism.

Dunkin' is the fastest and Chik-Fil-A is the slowest, but overall, QSR found that drive thru customers are spending an average of 255 seconds in line, 20 seconds longer than they did last year, and overall order accuracy dropped from 89.4% to 84.4%.

Chik-Fil-A, which also has the busiest—and also the friendliest—drive-thrus, has experimented by getting workers to take orders on iPads instead of forcing customers to drive up to the order window. Other chains have talked about incorporating artificial intelligence in the ordering process: In the future, we may be giving our orders to robots. Some, notably Wendy's, have also set aside parking spaces for customers who have ordered ahead so they don't have to go through the drive-thru line. (Arby's, however, resists this approach; a spokesman told QSR that the company's goal is to always have orders at the window.) A fun-fact: Drive-thru employees are at their least friendly—meaning, they don't say "please" as much—in mid-afternoon.

One thing the survey didn't look at was whether it's faster just to park the car and go inside.

The odd thing is, all these declines in customer service happened during a year when the chains were concerned about making improvements, or so they claimed. Maybe in the future Uber Eats will render drive-thrus obsolete. After all, when you go through the drive-thru, you actually have to put on pants and leave the house.