The drive-thru industry is transforming. A booming convenience culture, super-charged by a pandemic, has given rise to consumers seeking ways to receive meals faster and with less friction. Yet at the same time, diners also crave a unique and high-quality dining experience. Operations, technologies, and even physical building structures are rapidly evolving to accommodate the evolving drive-thru demand. How will these new trends impact the management of drive-thru restaurants?
Building Layouts will Keep Changing
Many owners have moved beyond the simple outdoor menu board and a single window. Multi-lane designs are already common, and some restaurants have even gone as far as putting the kitchen above lanes and removing dine-in spaces. These changes signal that more concepts are willing to permanently prioritize drive-thru traffic over the dine-in business.
Integrating with Mobile Orders
Mobile ordering isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the logistical challenge of juggling multiple ordering channels. Restaurants have begun to use drive-thru lanes to ease the congestion of mobile customers, carry-out customers, and delivery drivers all jostling to pick up their orders. With technology like QR codes and designated lanes, restaurants will reduce friction and ticket times for all types of customers.
Restaurant Technology Will Boom
Drive-thru technology hasn’t changed much since the introduction of the two-way speaker. But less patience from customers is resulting in a surge in technology that is speeding up ticket time by streamlining operations. Some ideas, like the bank-like vacuum chutes at a Minnesota Taco Bell, simply aim to move food at lightning speed, without requiring standard workflows to change much.
But other technologies, like artificial intelligence, will create bigger operational changes. Smart payments, voice recognition, and facial recognition will allow employees to focus on prepping food. These technological changes could benefit employers who struggle to find workers. But they will also require existing workers to have more skills in navigating technology and troubleshooting customer experiences.
“Drive-Thru Food” Can Be a Dining Experience
Hamburgers and coffee will no longer hold the monopoly on the industry. Because of the drive-thru business model, many restaurants featuring cuisines like Korean, authentic Mexican, or salads thrived during COVID. Their continued popularity shows that diners’ demand for convenience has not detracted from their desire for unique and high-quality food.
Drive-Thru Restaurant Managers are More Important Than Ever
As these changes spread through the industry, restaurant staffing needs will shift as well. Frontline workers will need more technology-oriented skills and training, and management will need to adjust to more complicated back-of-house operations. Restaurant executives will need the creativity to keep up with competitors and deliver the convenience and experience that diners are looking for.