By Ramishah Maruf, CNN
(CNN) - Every second counts in drive-thru lanes for fast food chains. A recent study showed Chick-fil-A had the slowest one, but only because it's so popular and there are so many cars in line.
Taco Bell led the pack in speed of service, with an average time of about 221 seconds, followed by Dunkin' Donuts, KFC and Arby's. But this metric doesn't factor the number of cars in line. In that category, Chick-fil-A is the clear leader, with 16% of its lines surveyed counting ten or more cars. McDonald's, which was in second place, only had 2% with that many customers.
Based on the total time cars spent in line, Chick-fil-A came out on top, with an average of about 107 seconds. McDonald's came in second at 118 seconds, followed by Taco Bell and Arby's.
QSR and Intouch Insight published its annual Drive-Thru Report, surveying more than 1,000 consumers who ranked ten industry leaders: Wendy's, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin', McDonald's, Arby's, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Taco Bell, and KFC.
Drive-thrus got bogged down last year mostly because of a shortage of restaurant workers, as thousands left the industry. The pandemic surge of drive-thru and pickup and delivery orders only exacerbated the issue
But luckily for customers, drive-thrus have gotten nearly 10 seconds faster compared to last year — and that can be a big advantage in this highly competitive industry.
"Mere seconds can be a make-it or break-it in terms of where a consumer decides to order," Amanda Topper, a research director at Mintel, said to CNN Business last year.
However, the current average is still about 45 seconds slower than the 2019 pace. The study said pre-sell menu boards, order accuracy and friendliness helped decrease the wait times at drive-thrus this year.
Service and speed
During peak Covid, Chick-fil-A was one of the first brands to close its dining rooms, focusing its attention on bringing hospitality to the drive-thru outside.
"We believe that looking eye-to-eye with the customer allows for a connection that happens at the beginning of the drive-thru," Matt Abercrombie, Chick-fil-A's senior director of service and hospitality, said in the study.
The researchers found that Chick-fil-A had fine tuned the "check-point system," which keeps customers engaged through different interactions with employees.
And that's clear in consumer sentiment too — 88% of respondents said Chick-fil-A had friendly service, placing it at the top of the industry. Only 1.7% said the service was "not friendly."
But when it comes to customer satisfaction, respondents said Arby's had the most accurate orders filled, at 89.6%. McDonald's and Burger King closely followed.
Wendy's founder Dave Thomas named the first modern drive-thru in 1970, coining the term "Pick-Up Window." And though the company this year announced a makeover that places an "emphasis on convenience, speed and accuracy," it has lagged behind its competitors in the survey.
The chain plans to redesign its interiors and implement new pick-up windows and a more technologically advanced kitchen.
The pandemic has opened up a new consumer demand for the drive-thru, pressuring fast food companies to upgrade signage, sanitation and technology.
In the survey, Wendy's came in 7th for speed of service and was also the lowest for order accuracy, at 79.4%. CNN Business has reached out to Wendy's for comment.
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