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Why Chick-fil-A's Unique Drive-Thru Approach May Become a New Trend in QSR

Based on a new study, Chick-fil-A’s slow-yet-effective drive-thru technique is a customer favorite.

The drive-thru window has been around for restaurants since 1947. Still, the system is anything but outdated. According to a new study from the National Restaurant Association, 39% of consumers have used the drive-thru more this year than last year, and a whopping 92% of consumers say they use the drive-thru at least once a month at QSR restaurants.

As the need for quick and convenient foodservice offerings rises, operators have responded with multiple options to meet the off-premises needs of their guests, including mobile ordering, third-party delivery partnerships, pick-up cubbies and self-ordering kiosks. Although some predict that the drive-thru industry will be dominated by A.I. technology soon, Chick-fil-A has been sticking with good-old-fashioned human interaction. The results speak for themselves.

While QSR’s recent Drive-Thru Study showed that Chick-fil-A has the slowest drive-thru service time, clocking in at nearly 323 seconds, the chain was also voted best in both order accuracy (94%), and customer service, scoring high in eye contact, pleasant demeanor, smiling, saying “please,” and being “very friendly”.

These results prove that Chick-fil-A is setting the bar high for quick-service performance, and that’s especially true re. the drive-thru. In response to long wait times—more than 35% of the Chick-fil-A’s restaurants have six-plus vehicles in line at any given time—the chain employs “face-to-face ordering” 60% of the time. This means team members are positioned outside the dual-lane drive-thru with tablets, mobile card readers and cash drawers to take orders. 

While this approach may result in slower service times, it also leads to the happiest customers. According to the study, Chick-fil-A has the friendliest drive-thru in QSR by a huge margin (65% of consumers consider the chain to be “very friendly,” versus No. 2 Taco Bell at 43%). With accuracy scores for the QSR segment overall dropping more than 5% this year, Chick-fil-A’s ability to keep customers satisfied sets it apart from the competition. 

Whatever Chick-fil-A is doing is working. Overall, the chicken chain generated over $4.1 million in sales per unit, nearly twice as much as McDonald’s. This year, the chain surpassed Taco Bell and Subway for the No. 3 spot in the industry in sales, according to National’s Restaurant News

In response to Chick-fil-A’s success, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other QSR and fast casual franchisors opting against drive-thru robots in favor of a smiling employee. More often than not, a good customer experience is worth the wait.