• Nikki Ault

Discovering The Digital Drive Thru

The last few years have brought about some major changes in the quick service restaurant and fast food industry.

Between online and mobile ordering, third party delivery options like DoorDash and Uber Eats, rewards programs to honor loyal and repeat customers, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to help these restaurant owners create more customized experiences, the industry has had to learn to incorporate a wide array of technology to "keep up."

With all of these upgrades taking place in the "old school" drive thru as we may have known it, you may think that this might mean the death of the drive thru. However, that is not necessarily the case.

Even to this day, 75% to 80% of quick service restaurant sales are done through the drive thru. To say they are dying would be wrong. What we will see though are continual changes to the set up, or functionality of the drive thru as technology changes.

Regardless of the set up or functionality of the drive thru itself, there are some other things to consider that technology may need to help out with as well, and that is customer experience.

The Customer Experience

As technology has changed, we have seen an increase in customer expectation as well. In fact, 32% of diners believe that restaurants are lagging in their technology use according to Ibid.

The customer expects better service. This means speed, customization, and accuracy. Basically a VIP experience. Let me expand on that.


Some restaurants are testing out two separate drive thru lanes, experimenting with the idea of one being for new orders and one being for mobile and third party delivery options. By having the faster option for pick up through the drive thru window, you can cut the wait time for the customer by several seconds.

Speed also comes into play for mobile and online ordering. Some restaurants are creating loyalty and rewards programs that can recall past orders for customers that tend to order the same things and allow them to earn rewards towards discounts and free purchases.

Some of the AI technology can even track the purchases made during specific times of the day and can send coupons or specials that are particular to those clients. They can also use geo-tracking to track and notify the restaurant when the customer actually arrives so their pick up can be ready.


We absolutely live in a world where we can get what we want. Especially when it comes to toppings on our burgers, the options for dietary and allergy restrictions and how many shots of syrup and espresso we want, or need, in our morning coffee.

Having the option of customization is huge in America at the moment as 36% of Americans between the ages of 16-34 are on a diet or consume a specific dietary regimen.

Delivering a unique customizable experience puts that customer on a VIP level, making them want to come back again knowing they will get exactly what they want.

The AI technology can again recall past orders to make the repetitive nature of ordering the same meals as easy as a touch of a button through online or mobile ordering. AI technology can also be the face of the ordering system. They can greet customers, take orders, upsell with additional offerings, acknowledge when items are out of stock, and the best part is, the emotion of the AI never exists creating a consistent experience every time through the drive thru.

Menu Boards can also do some of the same things with AI technology encompassed within them. The use of digital menu boards in QSR and fast food restaurants is growing immensely. Menu boards can also greet customers with video and eye catching features, upsell products that may be seasonal or trending, update options in real time, taking into consideration items in stock or that are limited, and entice customers based on weather conditions and time of day.


Delivering an accurate order tends to be the main focus of the consumer by the time they walk out the door or drive away from that window. If you forget to put something in that bag, or add something to that sandwich that customer did not want, it is likely to not have that customer return or they may likely go to social media to tell everyone about it.

According to Technomic, 44% of consumers say accurate orders influence their restaurant choice.

With this being said, it is important to utilize technology to increase the accuracy of orders such as using self-service ordering options or mobile and online options, so that the customer can pick and choose exactly what they want.

With healthier and higher quality food, the time in drive thru may be taking a little bit longer than it has in the past, but it has been found that the customer is willing to trade a few seconds, for accuracy and quality.

Using technology such as menu boards, upgraded drive thru services, mobile and online ordering systems, AI enhancements, and loyalty programs, an increase in speed, customization, and accuracy will be the items all quick service and fast food restaurants strive to provide their customers.

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