The Drive-Thru Continues to Adapt During COVID-19

As states continue to provide guidance on social distancing regulations and people work to adjust to this new normal, it goes without saying that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a huge impact on how we go about our daily lives. In the restaurant industry, this change has led to many people resorting to takeout for dinner.

And while some restaurants are reopening, most are limiting the number of customers that can be inside at a time. Many are still closed, offering only delivery, pickup or drive-thru to accommodate their takeout patrons.

This is why many quick-service chains are relying on their drive-thru and curbside pickup options. In fact, industry leaders are starting to recognize that drive-thru only may be the ultimate way to protect employees and customers in some areas. However, as quick serves see an increase in customers using these options, they may have to deal with new operational challenges to ensure a great customer experience.

Fortunately, restaurant operators who were already investing in improving drive-thru wait times and creating frictionless customer experiences, are prepared to support evolving customer trends that long predate the rise of COVID-19. Others can follow their lead by adopting market-ready equipment and service practices today – as this will help them address the current crisis, while fueling their businesses for the long term, especially as many of the behaviors adopted during this time will change future customer habits and expectations.

The good news here is that while transactional experiences may change, customers won’t stop looking at counter-service dining as a preferred restaurant option for a familiar, convenient, and affordable meal, and some restaurants may even do well during the uncertainty of the coming months.

Some critical growth and adjustment areas that your drive-thru must be ready for are:

  • High Drive-Thru Capacities: While drive-thru and curbside pickup have the potential to offer the ideal solution for safer, quicker customer interactions, quick-service restaurants must imagine the reality of what will happen when large numbers of customers show up in the drive-thru lane or at the curbside pickup location. Long lines of 10, 15, or 20 cars won’t cut it. Many potential customers will drive past the restaurant or abandon the line when they tire of waiting. This means your quick-serve must act now to reduce wait times in the pickup experience, so orders are delivered quickly, accurately, and with minimum to zero contact.
  • Mobile Marketing: Accurate location technology has enabled restaurants to amp up their mobile strategies. Quick-serves can be more responsive to customers by delivering relevant offers, powering gamified campaigns, and automating loyalty programs when the customer enters a store. Location technology also enables frictionless interactions, such as automated check-in when a customer arrives to pick up their order.
  • Curbside Pickups: Additionally, some operators are working to combine their frictionless location strategies with creative pickup scenarios that completely eliminate any contact between employees and customers. This could involve using location to properly sequence orders in the drive-thru, then having staff set the order on the ledge and close the window to ensure zero contact.

Even before the current COVID-19 crisis, many quick-serves were preparing for the changes brought by the ubiquity of mobile devices and the “need for speed.” Moreover, investing in drive-thru enhancements now will enable your quick-service restaurant to protect your customers and employees while positioning your quick-serve to operate more successfully in the months and years ahead. While no one knows how COVID-19 will play out, one certainty is that new habits and behaviors are forming. Restaurants that fail to address these new dynamics will likely find themselves struggling to compete.

About OrderMatic Corporation

At OrderMatic, we develop solutions that enhance the customer transactional experience in new and innovative ways. For over 60 years, we have provided turnkey contract manufacturing services nationwide. From exploring digital menu boards to using presell menus effectively, there are many ways to improve your restaurant’s efficiency even beyond best sales practices. Contact OrderMatic to discuss how you can enhance both your drive-thru and dine-in experience!