Achilles heel of fast-food chains

October 24, 2013

How can fast feeders unclog their drive-thrus—and keep c-stores at bay—while offering more complex items?

When did fast food get to be ‘not so fast’?

And if assembling the order and serving the customer takes so much time that people feel anxious before they eat, how does that affect the overall experience and the likelihood they’ll come back for more?

Both questions seem to perplex fast-feeders today and arise from several demons they face:  the need to evolve menus with healthier choices and more taste varieties; the need to make what they offer profitable; and stronger competition from convenience stores, which have expanded their prepared-food options, are ubiquitous, and generally allow for car parking closer to the store entrance.

These pressures add up to more kinds of ingredients, in different combinations—which squeeze operations.  Add in the high churn rate of fast-food employees, and the need for training, and constant checks for order quality and accuracy amplifies.  We’re heading into a season now where holiday beverages—such as the Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Latte, or the Chick-fil-A Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake—will add to the challenge of providing timely service.

How clogged is the drive-thru lane? A USA Today account of the 2013 Drive-Thru Performance Study, conducted for QSR Magazine by Insula Research, says McDonald’s took an average 189.5 seconds for the typical order-to-pickup process. That is nine seconds longer than the industry average, and it is the chain’s slowest time in 15 years the study has been done.   By comparison, the Cantina Bell bowls at Taco Bell can have as many as 12 ingredients, reported QSR.

The Lempert Report says if fast feeders can’t reverse this slowdown trend—perhaps with smartphone orders ahead of customer arrival—they won’t be living up to their name.  They’ll also be leaving a wide-open opportunity for convenience stores to take their customers.