The fast-food industry should say no to drive-thru timers

Speed isn’t always everything

Fast-food restaurant drive-thrus should do away with timers. (Flicker/ajay_suresh)

Fast-food restaurant drive-thrus should do away with timers. (Flicker/ajay_suresh)

When you go through the drive-thru at your favourite fast-food restaurant, do you ever feel rushed from placing your order to receiving your food? That’s because there’s an incentive to get you out of there.

Many fast-food restaurants have devices that act as timers in their drive-thru lanes to let employees know when a customer has arrived, estimate the average time that’s spent on a single car, and track the restaurant’s performance and profits. 

Time goals are usually set by the owner or managers of the restaurant on how much time should be spent on each customer. This can range from a few seconds to a couple minutes, depending on the restaurant. 

From my experience working at the drive-thru for several years, there are many problems with these timers. The timers focus on speed, which not only causes a more stressful work environment, but also loses the concept of convenience for the customer. 

At the restaurant I worked at, our goal in the system was 45 seconds to complete a customer’s order from the time they placed it to when they left the drive-thru, no matter how large the order was. If the customer was waiting at the second window for more than 10 seconds, the rule was to give them their drinks and ask them to pull into the parking lot to wait for the rest of their order. 

Due to being focused on speed and competing with other restaurants, this causes more cars than necessary to be in the parking lot waiting for their food and customers could be waiting longer than if they ordered inside. As fast-food restaurant menus expand with more and more food items, it’s difficult for employees to keep their target within the drive-thru timer. 

The persistent focus on speed is to maximize profits and make sure customers come back. But with the goal of 45 seconds or lower, it usually sets an unrealistic expectation for employees to achieve when it should depend on the size of the order — because it varies. 

By focusing on speed, the timers bring down the levels of accuracy in an order. Trying to constantly meet the goal of drive-thru timers can be stressful, especially when it’s a large order or during busy periods like lunch or dinner. This doesn’t mean an order will be wrong, but it increases the risk since the employees don’t always have enough time to thoroughly check the bag. 

Although the concept of the drive-thru is fast service, it loses the element of connecting with the customer. It’s hard to connect with a customer when there are 50 orders behind them. The stress can make the employee seem less genuine than they otherwise would be and the customer may feel like just another number. 

The fast-food industry should say no to drive-thru timers. It will not only provide a better experience for customers, but a healthier work environment for employees. While there are some benefits to these timers, like tracking the busiest times of the day, the cons outweigh the pros. 

Be fast in the drive-thru, but not too fast.