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Fast Food Drive-Thrus Are Slowing Down, But It's Worth The Wait

A McDonald's drive-thru. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
A McDonald's drive-thru. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Fast food is slowing down in the U.S. — at least at the drive-thru.

Customers spent an average of 255 seconds (4.5 minutes) in the drive-thru before receiving their food in 2019, a 20-second increase from 2018, a new study of drive-thrus from QSR Magazine finds.

"Americans love the drive-thru," says Sam Oches, editor of QSR Magazine, which covers the quick service and casual restaurant industry, "Fast food is getting better. The food is getting better. Higher quality takes longer to prepare."

The reason for the longer wait isn't employees are taking longer providing service, he says, but rather customers demanding higher-quality food from their favorite chains.

The study looked at data from 1,500 visits to 10 fast-food brands including Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's.

Dunkin' earned the fastest time with 217 seconds. The company has introduced an 'on-the-go' drive-thru lane that allows guests to order ahead on the Dunkin' mobile app to bypass the line and pick up their order, QSR reports.

Chick-fil-A had the longest wait time at 323 seconds because the restaurant is so busy, he says.

To make service more efficient, Chick-fil-A sends employees out into the parking lot with tablets to take orders and payments while customers wait in their cars, he says.

Major fast food chains see about 70% of business in the drive-thru, he says. That figure has remained steady but Oches sees third party delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash shaking up the industry.

"Mobile ordering has allowed for a lot of different ways to access your fast food," he says. "So that’s changing things and I think we’re going to see that affect the drive-thru."

Despite facing longer lines, Chick-fil-A was also the most accurate, serving 94% accurate orders.

All of the chains surveyed are getting at least 80% of orders correct excluding KFC, which scored 66% for accuracy.

The speed of service declined alongside order accuracy — 84%, five percentage points less than last year.

"About 15 years ago, when the speed of service was really high, order accuracy was actually kind of abysmal. The restaurants have been more attentive to getting the food out accurately," he says, "but it does take a little bit more time."

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.