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I visited McDonald's and Chick-fil-A to compare their drive-thrus, and it's clear the 2 fast-food chains are taking entirely different approaches

Published by Business Insider on Sat, 01 May 2021


<p><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/600b04d75c82bc0018f98188-2118/GettyImages-1244849566.jpg" border="0" alt="mcdonald's drive-thru window" data-mce-source="Cameron Smith/Getty Images" data-mce-caption="A person receives food at a Mcdonald's drive-thru window."></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><h3>Drive-thrus are key for McDonalds. About 95% of the chain's nearly 14,000 US locations have drive-thrus, with 25,000 worldwide.</h3><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/5b684e9a7708e967bf009886-400-300/drive-thrus-are-key-for-mcdonalds-about-95-of-the-chains-nearly-14000-us-locations-have-drive-thrus-with-25000-worldwide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.restaurantdive.com/news/mcdonalds-drive-thrus-allowed-us-businesses-to-largely-stay-open/582425/">Restaurant Dive</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>"Drive-thru made McDonald's what it is today," McDonald's CEO and president Chris Kempczinski said in an earnings call in April.</h3><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/5dd2ca1b7eece54c65579562-400-300/drive-thru-made-mcdonalds-what-it-is-today-mcdonalds-ceo-and-president-chris-kempczinski-said-in-an-earnings-call-in-april.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Now, the drive-thru is more important than ever, making up more than 90% of business thanks to the pandemic.</h3><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/53c6e83b69bedda54bf996bd-400-300/now-the-drive-thru-is-more-important-than-ever-making-up-more-than-90-of-business-thanks-to-the-pandemic.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>I gave the classic drive-thru experience a try to see how one of the biggest chains in the world stands up to the competition.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c242634af8d001859a315-400-300/i-gave-the-classic-drive-thru-experience-a-try-to-see-how-one-of-the-biggest-chains-in-the-world-stands-up-to-the-competition.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>For fairness, I decided to order what the chains are most known for at each restaurant using their apps. At McDonald's, that's a quarter pounder and Big Mac, and of course fries.</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/608c245c34af8d001859a316-400-300/for-fairness-i-decided-to-order-what-the-chains-are-most-known-for-at-each-restaurant-using-their-apps-at-mcdonalds-thats-a-quarter-pounder-and-big-mac-and-of-course-fries.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>The app is pretty standard compared to other fast food mobile ordering. I selected my order and location and then went to pick it up through the drive-thru.</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/608c26be35c46f0018c0b898-400-300/the-app-is-pretty-standard-compared-to-other-fast-food-mobile-ordering-i-selected-my-order-and-location-and-then-went-to-pick-it-up-through-the-drive-thru.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>The app gave me a short code to give the worker at the speaker, which I think made things move slightly faster than trying to repeat my name a few times.</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/608c2b0135c46f0018c0b8ef-400-300/the-app-gave-me-a-short-code-to-give-the-worker-at-the-speaker-which-i-think-made-things-move-slightly-faster-than-trying-to-repeat-my-name-a-few-times.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>My McDonald's location has double drive-thru lanes, a relatively recent innovation that was added to reduce wait times and bottlenecks.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c2b8034af8d001859a38f-400-300/my-mcdonalds-location-has-double-drive-thru-lanes-a-relatively-recent-innovation-that-was-added-to-reduce-wait-times-and-bottlenecks.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>McDonald's corporate has been pushing franchisees to upgrade drive-thrus since 2019 after years of increasingly long wait times.</h3><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/608c2c2e35c46f0018c0b8fa-400-300/mcdonalds-corporate-has-been-pushing-franchisees-to-upgrade-drive-thrus-since-2019-after-years-of-increasingly-long-wait-times.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-chipotle-double-down-on-high-tech-drive-thrus-2019-10">Insider</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>McDonald's average drive-thru wait times got slower every year for six years through 2019, leading to an all-time high of 273 seconds.</h3><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/608c2ce134af8d001859a39d-400-300/mcdonalds-average-drive-thru-wait-times-got-slower-every-year-for-six-years-through-2019-leading-to-an-all-time-high-of-273-seconds.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.qsrmagazine.com/drive-thru/2018-drive-thru-study-speed-service-0'sort=average_time_in_seconds_index&amp;dir=asc">QSR</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>Along with double lanes, consolidating menus by removing options like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, and all-day breakfast cut wait times.</h3><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/608c2d7935c46f0018c0b910-400-300/along-with-double-lanes-consolidating-menus-by-removing-options-like-grilled-chicken-sandwiches-salads-and-all-day-breakfast-cut-wait-times.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-menu-items-removed-2020-12#mcdonalds-famous-all-day-breakfast-might-also-be-on-its-way-out-for-good-7">Insider</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>I had a fairly simple order, but I didn't wait more than five minutes to receive my food.</h3><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/608c2dd735c46f0018c0b920-400-300/i-had-a-fairly-simple-order-but-i-didnt-wait-more-than-five-minutes-to-receive-my-food.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>McDonald's has also been investing in a curbside pickup program, with designated numbered parking spots where employees can bring out food to waiting customers.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c2e0f35c46f0018c0b925-400-300/mcdonalds-has-also-been-investing-in-a-curbside-pickup-program-with-designated-numbered-parking-spots-where-employees-can-bring-out-food-to-waiting-customers.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Next up, I went to Chick-fil-A.</h3><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/60253ddccca90200129b7b23-400-300/next-up-i-went-to-chick-fil-a.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A is a leader in the drive-thru industry, pioneering technology like handheld tablets for multiple ordering areas and taking orders by video.</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/608c454035c46f0018c0baa8-400-300/chick-fil-a-is-a-leader-in-the-drive-thru-industry-pioneering-technology-like-handheld-tablets-for-multiple-ordering-areas-and-taking-orders-by-video.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>The chain stands out from the drive-thru crowd in large part thanks to its workers with iPads who take orders from cars even before they reach the window. At Chick-fil-A, ordering and delivery are "zones," not set locations.</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/5c8922d701df7214bd58ddbe-400-300/the-chain-stands-out-from-the-drive-thru-crowd-in-large-part-thanks-to-its-workers-with-ipads-who-take-orders-from-cars-even-before-they-reach-the-window-at-chick-fil-a-ordering-and-delivery-are-zones-not-set-locations.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A's app is better designed and easier to use. It's simple to choose your nearest location, how you want to get your order, and your food.</h3><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/608c442434af8d001859a519-400-300/chick-fil-as-app-is-better-designed-and-easier-to-use-its-simple-to-choose-your-nearest-location-how-you-want-to-get-your-order-and-your-food.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>You can order before arriving at the restaurant, and the app directs you to exactly where to go and automatically notices when you arrive thanks to geofencing.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c448e35c46f0018c0baa3-400-300/you-can-order-before-arriving-at-the-restaurant-and-the-app-directs-you-to-exactly-where-to-go-and-automatically-notices-when-you-arrive-thanks-to-geofencing.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>It's also convenient to get directions within the app, or change to curbside pickup if the drive-thru line looks very long.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c44a035c46f0018c0baa5-400-300/its-also-convenient-to-get-directions-within-the-app-or-change-to-curbside-pickup-if-the-drive-thru-line-looks-very-long.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>My local Chick-fil-A also had double lanes, which kept lines moving.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c46f135c46f0018c0bab1-400-300/my-local-chick-fil-a-also-had-double-lanes-which-kept-lines-moving.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Everything in Chick-fil-A's operation feels thought out and operates smoothlylike a QR code to make sure customers can see the menu and know what they want to order by the time they make it to the speaker.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c472b34af8d001859a525-400-300/everything-in-chick-fil-as-operation-feels-thought-out-and-operates-smoothly--like-a-qr-code-to-make-sure-customers-can-see-the-menu-and-know-what-they-want-to-order-by-the-time-they-make-it-to-the-speaker.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>The chain also cuts down on wait times by sending workers out to cars waiting in line to collect payments and deliver food.</h3><img src="https://static4.businessinsider.com/image/608c47a734af8d001859a528-400-300/the-chain-also-cuts-down-on-wait-times-by-sending-workers-out-to-cars-waiting-in-line-to-collect-payments-and-deliver-food.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>The area where windows would be in any other fast-food drive-thru is instead a large sliding door, which workers are constantly running in and out of, transporting food.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c47e034af8d001859a52a-400-300/the-area-where-windows-would-be-in-any-other-fast-food-drive-thru-is-instead-a-large-sliding-door-which-workers-are-constantly-running-in-and-out-of-transporting-food.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Even double lanes and carhop-style workers can't stop the wait from being long. The chicken brand's drive-thrus can get so busy that they create traffic and even legal issues in some locations.</h3><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/608c477d34af8d001859a527-400-300/even-double-lanes-and-carhop-style-workers-cant-stop-the-wait-from-being-long-the-chicken-brands-drive-thrus-can-get-so-busy-that-they-create-traffic-and-even-legal-issues-in-some-locations.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Source: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/starbucks-chick-fil-a-drive-thrus-ipads-and-video-technology-2021-3">Insider</a></p></p><br/><br/><h3>Sometimes local police even get involved, directing traffic and settling disputes with other nearby businesses who get blocked by Chick-fil-A customers.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c491635c46f0018c0babb-400-300/sometimes-local-police-even-get-involved-directing-traffic-and-settling-disputes-with-other-nearby-businesses-who-get-blocked-by-chick-fil-a-customers.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>I preferred Chick-fil-A's food to Mcdonald's, but the wait was about four times longer at nearly 20 minutes.</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/608c494f35c46f0018c0babc-400-300/i-preferred-chick-fil-as-food-to-mcdonalds-but-the-wait-was-about-four-times-longer-at-nearly-20-minutes.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A is a pioneer when it comes to testing out drive-thru technology. Other brands like McDonald's, Starbucks, and others are adopting methods proven successful by Chick-fil-A.</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/608c498b34af8d001859a535-400-300/chick-fil-a-is-a-pioneer-when-it-comes-to-testing-out-drive-thru-technology-other-brands-like-mcdonalds-starbucks-and-others-are-adopting-methods-proven-successful-by-chick-fil-a.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A was the third-largest US chain by sales in 2019 with $11.3 billion in sales at its about 2,500 locations. McDonald's was the largest chain, with $40 billion in sales at nearly 14,000 locations.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c43a634af8d001859a513-400-300/chick-fil-a-was-the-third-largest-us-chain-by-sales-in-2019-with-113-billion-in-sales-at-its-about-2500-locations-mcdonalds-was-the-largest-chain-with-40-billion-in-sales-at-nearly-14000-locations.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/chick-fil-a-third-largest-fast-food-chain-us-sales-2020-5">Insider</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>The average Chick-fil-A location makes over $4.5 million in annual sales, compared to the average McDonald's with about $2.9 billion.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/608c4db134af8d001859a550-400-300/the-average-chick-fil-a-location-makes-over-45-million-in-annual-sales-compared-to-the-average-mcdonalds-with-about-29-billion.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Source: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/chick-fil-a-third-largest-fast-food-chain-us-sales-2020-5">Insider</a></em></p></p><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A is somewhat a victim of its own success; even with some of the most advanced technology in the business, wait times are long compared to competitors.</h3><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/608c4e2335c46f0018c0bae0-400-300/chick-fil-a-is-somewhat-a-victim-of-its-own-success-even-with-some-of-the-most-advanced-technology-in-the-business-wait-times-are-long-compared-to-competitors.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>McDonald's has a slight edge for the moment, but Chick-fil-A is gaining on it and poised to surpass the burger giant.</h3><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/5f4016c842f43f001ddfe680-400-300/mcdonalds-has-a-slight-edge-for-the-moment-but-chick-fil-a-is-gaining-on-it-and-poised-to-surpass-the-burger-giant.jpg" alt="" /><br/><br/><h3>Chick-fil-A's relatively small size is an asset compared to McDonald's. It has room to grow and build new restaurants with state-of-the-art drive-thrus, and the chain has already shown that it isn't afraid to experiment with new technology.</h3><img src="https://static6.businessinsider.com/image/608c4e4e35c46f0018c0bae2-400-300/chick-fil-as-relatively-small-size-is-an-asset-compared-to-mcdonalds-it-has-room-to-grow-and-build-new-restaurants-with-state-of-the-art-drive-thrus-and-the-chain-has-already-shown-that-it-isnt-afraid-to-experiment-with-new-technology.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain' Email this reporter at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com">mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com</a>.</em></p></p><br/><br/>
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