PhotoWhen it comes to getting a quick bite from a fast-food place, one always has to question whether to go inside and endure lines or simply pull around to the drive-through. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is faster.

On one hand if you attempt a quick run inside, you’re often held up by that indecisive customer in front of you, who is having trouble deciding between the burger and the chicken sandwich.

But sometimes when you decide to stay in your car and use the drive-through, everyone else at the restaurant has the same idea, and the next thing you know, you’re in a snail-paced car line, which seems to only move once every five minutes.

And as you watch the car before you sit in front of the speaker to order food you wonder two things: Why is the person in that car so confused about deciding on a handful of menu options? And why is it when I use the drive-through it's always empty inside with no lines. 

Burger King Oct. 15, 2012, 4:36 p.m.
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Many of us have asked ourselves these questions when trying to get a quick meal. We also probably asked ourselves which establishments really provide the fastest drive through service?

And it’s not just the quickness either, I mean speedy service is only as good as the restaurant’s level of accuracy and friendliness, so in the areas of speed, order accuracy and being nice to the customer, which franchise scores the highest?

Burger King flubs

Well, researchers discovered when it comes to accuracy at the drive-through, Burger King scored the worst, getting orders correct only 83 percent of the time. Chick-fil-A had the highest level of accuracy with 92.4 percent, and McDonald’s got its orders right 90.9 percent of the time.

The study also included other fast-food restaurants' level of accuracy including Taco Bell (91.2 percent) and Wendy’s (89.9) percent.

What’s interesting to see is just how far these places are from actually having 100 percent accuracy levels. Obviously, it’s almost impossible to get each and every order correct, but the fact that these establishments aren’t somewhere in at least the 95 to 98 percentile range may be surprising to some. 

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting your food and realizing the fries are missing. “Why didn’t I check the bag,” you always ask yourself.

Bucket of biscuits

I even heard of a lady ordering a family-sized meal of KFC at a drive-through, only to find nothing but a bucket full of biscuits. No chicken, no sides, just biscuits -- talk about a dinner-time nightmare.

When it comes to getting you through the drive-through the quickest, Wendy’s took the crown with an average speed of 129.75 seconds from when a customer places their order, to when they receive their food.

PhotoWendy’s Senior Vice President of Communications Denny Lynch says workers making a stronger effort to anticipate upcoming orders and specialty orders is what makes Wendy’s able to provide extremely fast service.

“You want a chicken sandwich, and you want mustard, pickle, onion on it? Ok, I get the chicken fillet, the mustard, the pickle, and onion, put it on a bun, wrap it up, and you’ve got it,” said Lynch.

“You want a smoothie? Ok, I’ve got to get the ingredients, I’ve got to portion out the ingredients, I’ve got to put it into a blender and smooth it. Because of that, you put the stress on the speed of service at the pick-up window. I think that has influenced the total speed of service," he said.

Industry experts say drive-through times are also getting faster, because of the growing use of pre-sell boards at many fast-food locations. You’ve probably seen these boards before. They’re the ones that only have the pictures of food items, so by the time you get to the speaker; you already know what you want.

 McDonalds  Oct. 15, 2012, 4:38 p.m.
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“The benchmark group is primarily national chains, but I would expect to see more of a dramatic impact [with the use of pre-sell boards] if you were a regional player and you’re looking to expand the geography where you operate," said Brian Baker, president of the research firm Insula.

“When you’re going into new markets, I think they would be even more important, that you give people the opportunity to familiarize themselves with your menu before they get to the order point,” he said.

Both Chik-fil-A and McDonald’s scored low in the speed category, both averaging more than five cars on their drive-through lines. Burger King, Taco Bell, Krystal and Bojangle’s scored much better, all averaging just two cars in drive-through lines.

Not too friendly

The research also shows that all the restaurants did poorly when it came to courtesy and friendliness, as only 57.2 percent of drive-through workers used the word “please,”  85.9 percent of employees used the word “thank you,” and only 37.8 percent of drive through window workers were considered “very friendly.”

“Even with pleasant demeanor, I’m thinking, why would that not be 100 percent,” said Baker. “Ok, so maybe 98 percent because everybody has a bad day, but it just seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m still scratching my head on that.”

The drive-through study is published in the October edition of QSR Magazine.

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