Learn what it takes to build a successful drive-thru business.
In our interviews with franchisor, franchisees and other industry experts, we found out that there are three cornerstones to the perfect drive-thru: Exceptional speed, unswerving product quality, and meticulous service.
If all three are achieved, a drive-thru will impress customers enough to earn their loyal patronage, they said.
Exceptional speed of service
Customers now expect exceptional speed in drive-thrus because of how hectic modern life has become.
“As we all get busier within our daily lives, we all rely on ways that improve our ability to achieve things faster – so we can spend the time we have doing the things we want to do – not the things we have to do,” said Chris Retzos, one of the most prolific KFC franchisees in Australia with 43 restaurants operating in Melbourne and other cities across Victoria.
“By delivering consistent speed of service through our drive-thru, we give our customers more time doing the things they want, as well as a reason to come back. Fast food is a convenience, and ordering and picking up a ready-made meal through our drive-thru is convenient,” added Retzos.
The difference between a slow and a fast drive-thru can be a matter of seconds in the eyes of customers, which is why franchisor must constantly strive to improve their nimbleness.
“Shaving seconds in the delivery process is a critical part of our drive-thru model being a success and this is of key concern in all our training and in the operational aspects of each new store opening,” said James Barritt, Executive Director at Zarraffa’s Coffee, a coffee house chain with dozens of stores concentrated primarily in Queensland.
In computing for quick service, customers also take a drive-thru’s location into account. They are more likely to visit drive-thrus that are easily accessible, which means operators need to be especially careful when selecting their drive-thru sites.
Zarraffa’s Coffee’s Barritt, for instance, shared that his brand allots quite a lot of energy in pinpointing the optimal location for each drive-thru branch.
“What has changed is our site selection process for new store locations as we look toward better convenience for customers. There is now more opportunity to meet the demands of our customers with high traffic and visible sites in convenience and stand alone stores. Ultimately, we have found a way for people to enjoy their daily cup of coffee, without interrupting their day-to-day activity and without sacrificing on quality or service.”
Unswerving product quality
Fast order delivery times are nothing though if the product delivered – be it from fast food to coffee – falls below the product quality customers have been receiving from dine-in stores.
“Our drive-thru, like in-store, is all cooked fresh to order so our menu structure and cooking processes must support speed while maintaining product quality,” said Tanya Gilchrist, Director at Rock Paper Scissors, a fish and chips gourmet eatery that also serves burgers, pizzas and yoghurt primarily in North Queensland.
Investing in the latest technology and systems is one of the key ways drive-thru operators can maintain product quality and still keep up with the dizzying speed customers demand.
“As a company we have invested considerable time and money in fine-tuning the backend of our operations as a way to create the optimum drive-thru coffee experience,” said Zarraffa’s Coffee’s Barritt. “Emulation by our competitors, increases in enquiry for drive-thru franchises and the overall level of customer satisfaction would suggest we are getting this right to date.”
For his part, major KFC franchisee Chris Retzos who operates 40 stores for the popular fast food chain, said that its partnership with technology provider Summit Innovations has been crucial in delivering consistent quality.
“We wanted to put the ‘Quick” back in Quick Service Restaurants – our customers come through our drive-thrus for fast food – and it is important that we give it to them, but with no reduction in food quality or order accuracy – that is the challenge,” said Retzos.
“To deliver on our promise of fast food to our customers, we began working with an Australian company called Summit Innovations – whose specialty is the drive-thru experience. Their technology offered us the best communication tools to accurately take orders, communicate the order internally, and the order progress through the restaurant, so the customer receives what they ordered in the fastest time possible,” added Retzos.
Chris Close, Director for Global Operations at Summit Innovations particularly cited the benefits of a digital order confirmation screen system for drive-thrus. “By ensuring that the order is correct right at the order point, it enables production teams to produce and deliver the product efficiently.”
The third pillar for a successful drive-thru is meticulous service, as evidenced by the lengths franchisor and franchisees alike go to improve the customer experience when passing through the outlet. In fact, it is exactly because customers only spend a very short time through the drive-thru that operators have a smaller margin for error.
“Our industry moves exceptionally fast, however one thing remains the same – our customers demand quick, quality service,” said KFC franchisee Retzos.
“One of the challenges in delivering quick service is maintaining accuracy. The new COD displays, both for the customer, and for the staff, are a great tool that enable us to deliver fasaining accuracy. The new COD displays, both for the customer, and for the staff, are a great tool that enable us to deliver fast, accurate service - the headsets allow our staff to take drive-thru orders while working on the Burger Bench – it is a hugely flexible system that lets our teams remain fluid and adapt as the situations demand.”
A little competition can also go a long way to boost service levels.
“Keeping the teams enthusiastic and motivated during the busy shifts is also a challenge that the live ranking system addresses, bring out the competitive nature, and driving them to achieve better results as they compete live with other stores,” said Retzos, referring to a competitive service system his team has installed that compares service speed and performance among his drive-thru outlets.
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