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The Drive-Thrus (guest author)

It is no secret that Americans have a sharp business instinct and they are unbeatable when it comes to understanding customer needs. So no surprise that drive-thrus are invented in the USA : efficiency, convenience and personal privacy are embedded in the society’s DNA.

Let's dig a bit

The original sin

A drive-thru is a facility through which you drive to be served without leaving your car. It’s a simple, but powerful concept. Drive-thrus were invented in 1947 by a Californian fast food chain. And no, McDonalds did not invent drive-thrus. As a matter of fact, McDonalds did not even open its first drive-thru until 1975.

Drive-thrus were created to provide customers with a more efficient, convenient and private experience. In the early days, ‘In-N-Out Burger’ customers received sheets of butcher paper to protect their laps while eating in their cars.

Drive-thrus also allowed fast food chains to serve more customers and cut personnel expenses.

The best and the rest

A whole ranking system has been developed to compare how good the drive-thrus are. Drive-thrus are assessed by how nice they look (amenities), how often they get your order right (accuracy) and by how fast they serve your order (speed of service). Benchmark information is abundant on the internet as this is a lot of fun. Here are some interesting facts I came across:

  • You’ll find, on average, 6.09 cars at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru at any given time,

  • McDonald average speed of service is 3 minutes,

  • Accuracy is topping at 90% for most chains (they’ll get your order right 9 times out of 10).

Fast food chains make significant investments to remain on top of their game. The best ? Apparently this is Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s and In-N-Out Burger who are currently the best out of 40 chains ranked.

Interestingly, some fast food chains consider that drive-thrus are not suited to their business model. Chipotle, a chain specialized in Mexican fast food, considers that drive-thrus would just ruin their customer’s experience, as customers “need to see the ingredients to compose their perfectly balanced burrito, taco, bowl or salad”. Hard to comment.

Taking it to the next level

By the 1970s, drive-thrus had already flooded the 'restaurants' in the USA and it did not take long for other businesses to see the opportunity and now you can find almost everything in drive thrus : coffee shops, pharmacies, retail banks, dry cleaners and grocery shops.

I love the bank drive thru. Let me share more. Retail bank drive-thrus are amazing. Most of them have several lanes (gas station style) and are equipped with compressed air systems to transfer cash and documents from the main office to the customers. How cool is that ?

As I was googling it, I found out that some people get really nervous there and developed some advice to avoid being “an ass when using banking drive-up services”. A little tough on some points, but here are some helpful tips:

  • Drive-thru is only for customers,

  • Have your transaction ready,

  • Only basic transactions are accepted,

  • Limit your transactions (please).

  • If you have a doubt, don’t use the drive-thru

American extravaganza

I’m clearly not suggesting you to do so, but for only $99 you can get married in a drive-thru in Vegas. Business is business in the USA. Interestingly, wedding drive-thrus offer the same advantages as fast food drives-thrus: efficiency, convenience and privacy. And, by adding only $100 more, you can upgrade to a “Cadillac Package” and “a dozen professional portraits of your big day”!

So based on that

Drive-thrus help businesses provide a more efficient, convenient and private experience. Created by and for fast food chains, they equip many different types of businesses. As many things, they have a downside. They get busy, take space, pollute, increase obesity and reduce face-to-face interaction. So next time, before driving through one of them, ask yourself if the benefits outweigh their disadvantages.

The National Museum of American History – Drive Thrus

QSR – The Drive Thru performance study

The best Drive-Thru restaurant chains

Don’t Be An Ass When Using Bank Drive-Up Services

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