10 Tips for Improving Your Drive-Thru’s Speed and Efficiency

Red’s Giant Hamburg on Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri, is often named as the first drive-thru restaurant in America. It opened in 1947 and rang in the start of a new era in convenience eating. 

Fast and efficient, diners could grab a bite on their way home, cruise through for a snack, or quickly quench their thirst. The next year In-and-Out installed two-way speakers at the drive-thru, a major advancement in restaurant technology, and the drive-thru experience was never the same. 

Today, the drive-thru has crossed over from simply delivering cheap fast food to all manner of industries, from banks to pharmacies. 

But the bulk of the drive-thru market happens at restaurants and it yields some stunning statistics. According to Food Truck Empire, “before the COVID pandemic hit, between 60% – 70% of some certain quick serve restaurant’s sales came from drive thru lanes.” 

That’s a big piece of the bottomline pie and a good reason for making sure your drive-thru is working at optimal capacity. Technology continues to shift the drive-thru experience forward and it, in tandem with great food and service, can improve drive-thru ordering even more.

To keep customers coming, speed and efficiency are imperative. This guide will look at how to make your drive-thru more effective, efficient, and speedy.

1. Put safety first

In this new era of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, assuring customers that their wellness is protected is essential—and that extends to a restaurant’s drive-thru. To institute good safety measures:

  • Post policies – Put up signage that clearly instructs customers on how to order and protect themselves. That includes mentioning a mask requirement and steps to avoid contact with a window server. 
  • Institute contactless payment and touchless delivery – At places like Starbucks, window cashiers began handing food on trays and placing cards and money in a cup in order to avoid contact between staff and customers. And  contactless payment options allow guests to pay using their mobile phones,  without handing over a card or even touching a card swiper. 
  • Face shields – Offer staff the proper protective gear to reduce their risk to exposure as well as that of customers. 

2. Sanitize

Ensuring repeat business isn’t just a product of providing good food. People want to eat from places that are clean and well-kept. That’s especially true during the pandemic. Instituting stringent cleaning protocols using EPA-certified products will ensure the drive-thru experience is a welcoming and clean one that encourages repeat business.

3. Keep window stocked

Smooth operations are the work of proper preparations. That means preparing the drive-thru with plenty of product and supplies, from lids to straws and napkins, so that restocking doesn’t slow down the flow of orders or vehicles.  

4. Greet customers swiftly

Nothing slows down the flow in a drive-thru like a customer waiting to be welcomed at the order kiosk. Even if a clerk has to ask a customer to hold for a moment, greeting them right away can help reassure customers that their order is important and will be taken soon. 

5. Enhance visibility

Whether its digital signage or drive-thru lighting, make sure customers can quickly see and identify the drive-thru lane, menu, and check-out window. 

6. Update menu boards

To avoid confusion and frustration, drive-thru board menus should be kept up-to-date with unavailable options clearly marked. Deals and promos should also be clearly labeled to increase the speed of traffic.

Related page: Learn about OneDine’s digital menu solution.

7. Install confirmation boards

To minimize human error, one of the best ways drive-thru restaurants have found to improve orders is to install confirmation boards. These digital signs post customer’s orders in real time, allowing them to make edits or changes before driving forward to the payment window. 

8. Move staff outside

Some restaurants have had success by increasing orders through onsite staff coming up to car windows to take orders. Such is the case with Chick-fil-A. “As the order-taker walks the line, another team member comes to the customers’ car to take payment, allowing cars to move through twice as fast as they do at a traditional speaker box drive-thru. Chick-fil-A calls the system ‘face-to-face ordering’,” explains the Chickwire


9. Contactless payment system 

For a super fast drive-thru experience, scan-to-pay contactless payment systems make the entire process more swift. OneDine makes scan -o-pay simple by enabling payment through mobile devices. OneDine works by allowing customers to scan a QR code from a receipt or from a management tablet. That means there’s no need to pass:

  • Credit cards
  • Cash
  • Pens

But the biggest seller for OneDine’s suite of contactless solutions — there’s no app required. Whether on-premise or off, OneDine offers a solution to avoid any and all contact during payment. Plus, payment can be completed from the car, from the house, really anywhere. That includes:

  • Curbside
  • At a drive-thru window
  • Tableside
  • Or at a cashier station

OneDine example of our Parking Spot order, pay and go system for restaurants.

10. Great service
Repeat customers don’t just choose the drive-thru for its convenience.

Ultimately, great service is what counts the most and keeps hungry customers coming back for more. That requires training staff to be smart, helpful, and welcoming at every step, from the initial order to the final check-out. A “customer is always right” attitude, coupled with effective service that gets a person’s order into their hands fast, will always result in customer satisfaction.