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The Future of Drive Thru
Feb. 23, 2021
Cava Drive Thru

The Future of Drive Thru

Drive-thrus have been around since the 1940s. But recently, the pandemic has prompted a shift in how drive-thrus function around the world. It's no doubt that during this time businesses with drive-thru facilities have shown great levels of success, but what does the future of drive-thru look like? And how will the pandemic impact businesses that previously didn't utilize drive-thru tech?

Drive-thru beyond QSRs

Companies like Sweetgreen have been eying drive-thru concepts for several years now, but COVID-19 is what pushed them to make the leap. There are numerous challenges with dine-in-style businesses like Sweetgreen, such as the fact that preparation of food can take longer. In response, they need to create solutions to make the queues go down quicker, especially considering that on average, drive-thru wait times are on the rise.

Sweetgreen, however, are no strangers to innovation. Almost 50% of their orders across their 120 restaurants are placed in advance and paid for via their app. This way of click and collect ordering is the basis of their drive-thru experience.

One of our other clients, Shake Shack has also reported that they'll be opening their first drive-thru later on this year and plan to have up to eight ready by the end of 2022 – their to-go only operations inspiring this move in business.

Artist renditions of the Shake Shack drive-thru experience showcase a large, modern, three-lane experience; two for drive-thru and one for app pickup delivery. The latter orders would be completed via the Shake Shack app with employees taking payment contactlessly and handing the customer their food directly at their car. They're also designing external walk-up windows known as Shack Track to encourage people to order ahead and collect it at their convenience, reducing client’s perceived wait times.

So we know that businesses beyond the standard QSR can adopt some form of drive-thru model that works even with their barriers to entry. But what other tech advancements can we expect?

Additional Lanes

Dual or triple lanes will also be adopted by QSRs across the country, some of which we already see at major chains. These lanes allow for increased numbers of traffic and could likely be manned by AI tech in the future.

Vehicle Detection

AI-powered lanes could also come with vehicle detection. Drive-thru customers could be given a personal greeting and the vehicle recognition could simultaneously serve as a way to speed up order times. For example, based on historical data, if a customer tends to order the same thing every time they visit, a quick greeting saying “Hi [customer], would you like the usual?” could see ordering times cut down dramatically. AI-based upselling/ordering can also help tailored products to be recommended to customers. It could also be based on external factors like the time and weather conditions or whether or not they usually upgrade – no-one wants to be hassled into an upsell every time they visit a business.

Customer Approaching

Geofencing tech could even advise the restaurant of a customers' imminent arrival and tailor digital signage screens to their preferences showing appropriate special offers. It also helps with those prepping app orders for collection as it’ll calculate their ETA and ensure their food is fresh and delivered at the right time.

Loyalty Recognition Software

Software built into ordering apps can link a vehicle registration with an account, and can ensure that customers never miss out on their loyalty points. It can also help to generate specifically targeted ads on digital screens and could include personalized greetings and offers upon the customer’s arrival.