But service in drive-thru lanes has been slowing down overall.

By Mike Pomranz
October 15, 2018
NeonJellyfish/Getty Images

Different people look for different things in their fast food experiences. But seeing as its right in the name, being fast doesn’t hurt. No matter how good your food is, being a slow fast food restaurant probably isn’t good for your reputation. So though speed isn’t necessarily the top priority for customers, it’s definitely still interesting to see where restaurants land on QSR Magazine’s annual drive-thru study.

This year’s study focused on ten major chains, and purely based on speed, Burger King took the top spot with an average time of 193.31 seconds. Next up was Dunkin’ Donuts with a time of 200.74 seconds, followed by KFC with an average time of 218.95 seconds. Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s round out the top ten—with Mickey D’s taking 273.29 seconds on average, or over 4.5 minutes.

But as these brands all jostle for position—Burger King jumped up to first from the fourth spot, whereas, despite its poor showing this year, McDonald’s was just fifth just two years ago—QSR says the larger takeaway is that service times are slowing down in general. “This year’s brands clocked in at an average of 234 seconds, compared with about 225 seconds last year,” the magazine writes. “Back in 2003, the year Wendy’s scored an all-time Drive-Thru Study best of 116 seconds, the national average was about 190 seconds.”

Interestingly enough, however, Taco Bell’s COO Mike Grams told QSR that part of the problem is that the fast food industry is a victim of its own success. “Over the last five years, everybody has seen, as traffic has increased in the drive-thru, times have slowed down,” he was quoted as saying. “Items per [transaction] has gone up almost a half item at Taco Bell in the last couple years, which is a great thing, but it also means something else has to be produced with every order.”

And of course, as we said up top, speed isn’t everything. QSR’s study looked at things like order accuracy—which was bookended by two chicken chains: Chick-fil-A was best with 97.3 percent accuracy, and KFC was way last with 69.9 percent accuracy. (To compare, Carl’s Jr. was next-to-last with a significantly better 87.7 percent accuracy.) And the report also included other areas from ease of entering the drive-thru to service attributes.

Overall, every chain had places where they could improve—and rapidly changing technology also means we could see major changes in the way drive-thrus operate in the future. “If you think about mobile devices as a handheld kiosk, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth there,” Deepak Ajmani, vice president of restaurant services for Wendy’s, told QSR. “Imagine a fast-food world where you place your order on your phone, drive up to the pick-up window, and there it is. Made fresh, just as you ordered.” The goal has been set: In the future, the best average wait time could be zero seconds.

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