The Secret Sauce to your Restaurant’s Drive-Thru Performance

Discover the secret sauce to drive-thru performance

When restaurants first opened drive-thrus, the convenience of picking up dinner on the go was enough to satisfy customers. Speed and service were great additions, but not necessities. However, as the drive-thru becomes more popular and the competition becomes fiercer – even with trends such as third-party delivery and mobile ordering – drive-thru essentials are shifting. Now, more than ever, brands are expected to deliver in some form or fashion on all four of the main table stakes – speed of service, order accuracy, customer service and taste.

How should you respond to and deliver on these expectations? How does your brand set itself apart from the competition to improve its brand loyalty and customer experience? Here are a few tips for discovering the secret sauce to a drive-thru that performs.

1. Discover who you are as a brand.

Many times, brands start feeling as though they have little to no control of what customers think of them, their online presence and/or how they compare to competitors. By asking and answering key questions regarding your brand image, mission and vision and who your target audience is, you can discover who you are as a brand and what sets your restaurant apart from the competition.

  • What does your brand do really well?
  • What characteristics is your brand known for?
  • Who are your typical customers?
  • How are you promoting your brand’s products and services?
  • When is your competition launching promotions and discounts compared to your restaurant?
  • Where can your brand improve to deliver a better customer experience?
  • What threats and opportunities do your competitors present to your restaurant?

Learn more about conducting a competitive analysis with SeeLevel HX.

2. Take your brand into your own hands.

Once you’ve discovered what sets you apart and how you can best serve your target audience, take your brand into your own hands by crafting specific messaging to promote those key characteristics. By telling your customers what they should expect when they visit your restaurant, you begin taking ownership of your brand image and how customers will perceive their experiences.

Take Chick-fil-A for example. The 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study showed that Chick-fil-A was the slowest quick-service restaurant (QSR) of the ten brands measured (Chick-fil-A’s average total service times were 487 seconds, against the study average of 327 seconds). However, when you read about the restaurant, you find that their main focal point is customer service. By promoting that customers can expect great service, perhaps this popular food chain and leader of the study is helping customers perceive their brand differently to enjoy their experiences while they wait for their food.

Another great example is Steak n’ Shake. With their slogan, “In Sight It Must Be Right,” and by stating they have a tradition of “serving the country’s best, freshest and tastiest burgers and shakes,” they’re setting customers’ expectations of fresh and great food. Once again, because this restaurant took its brand into its own hands, customers’ perception of speed of service might look different than a brand that promotes quick service like Jimmy John’s “freaky fast” service.

2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study results
Customers’ rankings of various QSR categories in SeeLevel HX’s 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study

3. Implement strategies and tools to deliver.

One piece of advice that I can’t stress enough is, if you say you are great at something, you better deliver on that. As you set customer expectations through your messaging and advertising, great experiences are going to be based on whether or not you delivered on what you said you would.

  • Is your brand the fastest?
  • Do you have the freshest products?
  • Are you providing the best experience and customer service?
  • Do your secret formulas top those of your competitors to provide high-quality taste?

There are technologies and innovations you can implement to support your efforts to deliver on what you’re best at. For example, the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study indicates that there are three main pieces of technology around the menuboard that could affect service times – the pre-sell menuboard, the order confirmation board (OCB) and the digital menuboard. One of the biggest factors to take into account with any of these is the investment you must first put in.

The study indicates that pre-sell menuboards can save you 12 seconds per transaction and OCBs can save your restaurant 7.3 seconds per transaction. If speed of service if your main selling point, your brand must consider if these potential savings are worth the initial investment to implement them in each store.

Another strategy you might consider in order to deliver on the customer expectations you set is to analyze and restructure your kitchen layout. As mentioned above, trends such as third-party delivery and mobile ordering can be known to clog up the kitchen and confuse employees on where orders are supposed to go. This can hurt order accuracy and speed of service, and even customer service as frustrations rise.

Analyze your QSR’s drive-thru performance and the various technologies and innovations that could save you time, money and other resources. From that analysis, determine which investments could have the most positive impact on your brand system-wide.


With today’s shifting customer expectations and food trends such as mobile ordering and third-party delivery, brands are striving to discover the secret sauce to performance, including in the drive-thru. One formula for consideration: discover who your brand is, set your customer expectations based on your brand’s characteristics and make sure you meet the expectations you create.

As a restaurant owner, you have more power than you may think to determine your brand reputation, online presence and customer expectations.

Ready to improve your restaurant’s drive-thru performance?
Leading mystery shopping company and market research agency SeeLevel HX can support your efforts to improve your customer experience and ensure your brand messaging is coming through the drive-thru.

Download the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study today and schedule your free consultation with Chief Sales Officer Ken Lundin to discover how your brand stacks up against the competition.