- On July 21, 2022
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The restaurant industry has undergone a seismic shift in the last few years. Consumers have adopted new behaviors, there is more widespread tech implementation, and added health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the industry to stay afloat, most businesses have had no choice but to adopt new ways of operation to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers. One component of the QSR industry that is undergoing a period of change is the drive-through experience.
Innovation is not new to the restaurant industry; however, the conditions of the pandemic accelerated it. Components initially considered ‘good-to-have’ are now essential, and it would be difficult for a restaurant to survive the current market without them. During the pandemic, when walk-in service was put on hold and most people were forced to work from home, restaurants needed to figure out how to stay in business without compromising safety. These pushed the popularity of trends like contactless ordering and drive-thru orders.
But even as social distancing restrictions ease all around the world, the QSR industry is not expected to go back to what it was. Consumers have embraced the convenience and efficiency of the new trends in the food service industry, and as a result, their preferences have evolved. In this blog, we’re exploring how that happened, what changes we may still see in regards to drive-through experiences, and how digital signage will play a role.
Drive-through Experiences Through the Ages
While there’s certainly been a resurgence in the last few years, drive-thru experiences are not a product of the current generation. The concept existed as far back as 1921. It was first put into work by the Texas chain Pig Stand, which had its first drive-in on the highway connecting Fort Worth and Dallas. The drive-in is operated by having customers eat their meals in their cars while still on the premises. When it started, it was a mere novelty, but as car ownership dramatically boomed in the twenties, the popularity of drive-ins also blossomed. More restaurants adopted the concept to cater to America’s new motorists. As everyone got caught up in the drive-in fever in the 1940s, other industries adopted the trend too. There were drive-in banks, grocery stores, and even liquor stores.
It was in 1948 that the concept was refined by the burger chain In-N-Out, which opened the first drive-through in Baldwin Park, California, that featured a drive-up window. Other restaurants soon copied this, and a couple of drive-thrus sprung up, including McDonald’s, which opened its first drive-thru in the mid-1970s. As more people opted to dine in their cars, auto interior designers also included the cup-holders provision in the 1980s for convenience.
Today, almost everyone enjoys the efficiency and convenience of a good drive-through experience. Customers are likely to consider ordering from your restaurant if you offer online orders, curbside pick-ups, and drive-through services.
The Resurgence of the Drive-Through Experience
While drive-through experiences for QSRs and a few other select industries (notably banks and pharmacies) have stuck around for decades, other drive-through experiences eventually faded out of popularity. That changed when our routines were upended during the pandemic.
During the height of quarantine restrictions, there were a very limited number of activities people could do for fun, so drive-through or drive-in activities saw a major resurgence. One of those activities included the return of drive-in movie theaters, as well as drive-in holiday events. In addition, since most holiday traditions were no longer an option due to social distancing, drive-thru light displays for the holiday season were organized in parking lots across the US. Drivers could have an immersive experience of watching an LED light show as the car radio plays Christmas songs.
On the food industry side of this phenomenon, many people have embraced the work-from-home culture since the pandemic, commuter patterns are different and flexible. This means that fewer people are commuting to offices and now have the freedom to run errands, visit the gym, or take a drive to relax, and in the process, they can stop by the drive-thru to pick a meal for themselves or a snack for the kids.
Additionally, the need to social distance from others disrupted public transportation and increased the use of private cars. This increases mobility and flexibility, which means drivers are more likely to drive through their favorite fast food to satisfy a craving. Moreover, the confinement to our homes and limited options for hanging out in public saw more people going on road trips, which also increases the likelihood of drivers stopping for a snack or meal, and drive-thru offers that convenience.
It is just not the consumers that have triggered the resurgence of the drive-thrus. Dine-in services require a large amount of space to sit and serve customers comfortably, and real estate is not cheap. By investing in drive-thru operations, QSRs minimize the need for seating space. Therefore, a drive-thru offers an added opportunity to the business without putting strain on your budget.
Taco Bell Defy: A New Era for Drive-Throughs?
Taco Bell, the American fast food chain, is paving the way for the new QSR era by launching Taco Bell Defy. Instead of featuring the typical single drive-thru lanes we are accustomed to, they will have at least two lanes and as many as six that offer contactless service. Boasting the fastest food service experience yet, this brand new contactless service option is enabled by using an efficient lift system that delivers food from the kitchen above to the car windows below.
So does this mean that other players in the QSR industry should follow suit and abandon dine-in services? It’s doubtful that dine-in QSRs will disappear, but we do expect more chains to invest in their drive-through services to meet the current customer behaviors and expectations. Implementing technologies like advanced digital signage will make operations seamless and allow employees to focus on other core aspects of running the business to increase efficiency.
Impact of Drive-Throughs on the QSR Industry
How will the evolving state of today’s drive-through experience change the way QSRs provide food services to their customers? In addition, how will digital signage assist these ongoing industry shifts?
Many consumers report not seeing themselves picking up their pre-pandemic behaviors soon. Social distancing caused a massive shift in many aspects of our lives, and how we navigate as consumers is no exception. Drive-thrus enabled customers to order and receive their food through a touchless experience, which means that technologies like contactless payments and voice ordering will remain very much relevant post-pandemic, as well as placing orders through interactive signage technology.
More Automation and Digitization
Customer satisfaction is directly associated with customer expectations; as we’ve illustrated, those expectations are evolving. To keep up, restaurants need to streamline their processes to increase customer satisfaction rates, maintain higher sales, and establish a loyal customer base. One of the ways you can improve the service is to automate some functions like order taking. Automation through technology like self-service kiosks ensures you get orders right the first time and process them faster to affect the customer positively.
The QSR industry is becoming increasingly digital. Customers no longer have to peruse a paper menu to make an order. Digital menu boards are becoming the industry standard, even for drive-through menus. Digital menus are not only attractive and engaging for consumers, but they are also efficient for business. They depend less on manual data and use site-specific technology tools to catalog assets and make changes, making the process simple and manageable. Digital displays make ordering easy, improve customer experience, target a specific audience, are flexible, and are cost-efficient and energy-efficient.
Explore Keyser Today
At Keyser, we can help you improve your restaurant’s drive-through experience with digital signage. Remember that the drive-through customer is after speed and convenience and digital signs help you pass the critical information to them quickly, which can help influence their decisions. Contact Keyser today to learn more about how digital signage can help you generate more sales at your drive-thru.