Swift service is everything - even in a pandemicBy Luke Irving
It seems, on the face of it to be the antithesis of good customer service - replacing the human touch in restaurants with less personal drive-thru, kiosk and delivery options.
But that’s exactly what quick service restaurants all over the world have had to do in the last year to keep serving their customers safely through the COVID-19 pandemic.
One lingering side effect of that has been a reversal in the trend away from the drive-thru, which was obvious up to 2019 and most pronounced in the United States, where the drive-thru first emerged in the 1940s.
Many restaurant chains had started pivoting towards the in-restaurant experience as their increasingly complex menu options saw drive-thru queue times increase and order accuracy fall. But in the months following the first lockdowns in March last year, the drive-thru became the go-to option for millions of fast food diners.
Between April and June last year, drive-thru usage in the US jumped 26%, representing 43% of all restaurant visits, according to NPD Group. Some of our own customers saw even larger spikes in drive-thru usage during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The major changes in restaurant operating procedures saw the fast food industry initially struggle to meet the demand. Queue times across the ten largest restaurant chains jumped by 30 seconds on average per visit in the US, according to the SeeLevel HX Annual Drive-Thru Study.
But we saw customers who are using our Eyecue™ drive thru management system quickly adapt to the new normal and maintain and even improve their drive-thru completion times. The difference lies in applying cutting-edge technology to an 80 year-old method of buying fast food.
At Fingermark™, our machine vision technology based on cameras in the drive-thru lanes and surrounding car park, helps restaurants more efficiently manage the flow of approaching vehicles. Our real-time data analytics can help uncover operational blindspots and empower staff to take immediate action to remove bottlenecks.
Time is money in the fast food industry. SeeLevel HX estimates that the increased drive-thru times it measured last year would cost a quick-serving restaurant around US$32,000 per store per year. For a large restaurant chain with 2,000 outlets, that equates to over $64 million a year.
That’s why the QSR industry is turning to technology such as artificial intelligence, smart software, mobile apps and smart menu display technology to improve the customer experience and shave precious seconds off ordering times.
The use of this technology will remain an imperative for the industry as fast food chains once again embrace the drive thru and digital channels grow in popularity as convenient ordering options.
The likes of Starbucks and Chipotle, which typically have smaller outlets without drive-thru lanes are now prioritising drive-thru for suburban locations where they have car park space. Taco Bell, McDonald's and KFC are all experimenting with multi-lane drive-thru formats and dedicated spaces for pick-ups and in-car dining.
With Eyecue™ we are helping fast food restaurants all over the world navigate the new normal in fast food dining created by COVID-19. As an industry we have shown that we can adapt to unprecedented change and deliver that age-old sweet spot of convenience, quality and speed - complete with the human touch when diners request it.