Culinary no-no #674


MILL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 22: Cars line up at a McDonald's drive-thru on April 22, 2020 in Mill Valley, California. McDonald’s announced plans to offer free Thank You Meals to first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic between April 22 and May 5. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A few Saturday mornings ago I made an early run to the McDonald’s in Franklin with no intention of getting out of the car. I basically had just gotten up, threw on some clothes, and shunning shower and shave headed for the Golden Arches.

When I got within sight of the parking lot I let out an “Oh no.” Both lanes of the drive-thru had at least five vehicles and there were more waiting in just in front of them past the “place your order here” spot. All in all my experience wasn’t bad. I got to the first and second windows quickly. Service was friendly. My order was accurate. I was pleased.

Wish I had timed the entire transaction since drive-thrus are more critical than ever in pandemic-plagued 2020.

Drive-thru restaurant visits increased by 26 percent in the April, May, and June quarter and represented 42 percent of all restaurant visits. In July when more restaurants were reopened, drive-thru visits still increased by 13 percent, the highest visit increase among the service modes of on-premises, carry-out, and delivery, according to the NDP Group.  The average American will spend over $1,200 on drive-thru food annually. 

Since the drive-thru was first invented it has relied on convenience and speedy ordering. Inevitably drive-thrus will see their popularity rise.

The market research company SeeLevel HX has been conducting their QSR (Quick-Service Restaurant) Drive-Thru study for 20 years. This year’s edition has just been released.

A comprehensive, nationally representative survey of drive-thru consumers in the U.S. was done using an online survey sample. Data was collected across at least 85 visits to drive-thrus at ten chains from June 29 to August 12, a few months after a national emergency was declared.

Average drive-thru times across the board were slower this year than last: 356.8 seconds in 2020, up from 327.0 seconds in 2019. The report indicates that the restaurants themselves weren’t necessarily to blame.

“Surprisingly, service time, the time from placing an order to picking up, was actually 16.9 seconds faster this year at 238.1 seconds compared to 255 seconds in 2019,” SeeLevel HX states. “However, slower wait times in 2020 increased the overall total times.” Seemingly the increased volume of customers due to COVID-19 managed to slow things down.

Lisa van Kesteren, SeeLevel HX CEO, said in announcing the results. “Still, every second has a substantial impact on the bottom line. And as more restaurants rely on the drive-thru for the majority of their revenue during this pandemic, and likely long term, it’s never been more critical to focus on improving wait tim

Lisa van Kesteren, SeeLevel HX CEO, said “every second has a substantial impact on the bottom line. And as more restaurants rely on the drive-thru for the majority of their revenue during this pandemic, and likely long term, it’s never been more critical to focus on improving wait time by investing in technology like menuboards and mobile to stay competitive.”

Who’s the quickest?

KFC unseated 2019’s champion, Dunkin’, by getting customers taken care of in 283.3 seconds, slightly more than four-and-a-half minutes. After KFC, the remaining restaurants are: Taco Bell (310.2 seconds), Hardee’s (321.6 seconds), Carl’s Jr. (341.6 seconds), Burger King (344.3 seconds), McDonald’s (349.3 seconds), Dunkin’ (351.7 seconds), Wendy’s (358.7 seconds), and Arby’s (394.2 seconds), with Chick-fil-A bringing up the rear.

Who’s more accurate?

Chick-fil-A ranked first in accuracy followed by McDonald’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’, Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and then KFC. Overall, 87 percent of orders were ruled accurate across all chains.


The study partnered with FoodserviceResults to study consumer satisfaction across a range of metrics at 17 limited-service companies. The following figures represent percentage of customers who were highly or somewhat satisfied by brand drive-thru experiences.

Speed of Service

1st: Chick-fil-A (93%)
Last: Popeyes (80%)

Friendliness of Staff

1st: Chick-fil-A (94%)
Last: Popeyes (80%)

Cleanliness and Sanitation

1st: Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread (93% each)
Last: Popeyes and Checkers/Rally (78@ each)

Menu Item Availability

1st: Arby’s (93%)
Last: Popeyes (82%)

Quality of Menu Items Ordered

1st: Chick-fil-A (94%)
Last: Taco Bell, KFC, Jack In The Box (84% each)

Order Accuracy

1st: Chick-fil-A (95%)
Last: KFC (83%)

Overall Experience

1st: Chick-fil-A (93%)
Last: Popeyes (80%)

Here are the complete details on customer satisfaction.

I concur. Oh, I’ll patronize McDonald’s and Burger King and Popeyes. But give me Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, Culver’s, Wendy’s, and Hardee’s if I can find one.


Today’s Sunday edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a good article that accurately describes a major problem restaurants have had to confront during the pandemic: constant changes in regulations. You need a subscription to see the entire article but here’s an important excerpt:

Restaurant and bar owners would appreciate it if Wisconsin leaders would develop and enforce consistent, firm rules on how to safely operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

From Courthouse Pub owner Ryan Morris in Manitowoc to Plae Bistro owner Jill Bassett in the Green Bay area, those in the industry said they’ve had to adopt a one-day-at-a-time approach to doing business. They’re never sure when a new order will come down from the state, or an industry group will provide different guidance, or courts will temporarily or permanently strike down the latest rules.

“You just keep pivoting,” said Andrew Schneider, co-owner of Le Rêve Patisserie & Cafe in Wauwatosa.

Across the board, from the federal to local levels, he said, “there is no clear vision of what to do.” Restaurants owners just have to make their best judgments, Schneider said. 

“You can’t really plan for anything, and I’m a planner,” Bassett said recently, on the same day a Sawyer County judge temporarily blocked a state order limiting the number of people inside bars and restaurants. “Every day is a different day. Yesterday we could have 25% (capacity). Today, we can be full.”

Trying to keep up with the changes adds another level of stress to an eight-month run of sleepless nights spent worrying about their employees’ and business’ future.

Industry groups, business networks, Republicans and Democrats should stop the political and legal back-and-forth, recognize they’re the ones who have to bring some order to operations, and set forth rules that won’t be challenged days or weeks later,  (Kris Larson, co-owner of Becket’s restaurant) said.

ALSO: The Mystery Of The Mummified Twinkie

One thought on “Culinary no-no #674

  1. Pingback: Culinary no-no #675 | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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