Cover-Image-IMG_2315You learn a lot about drive-thrus after two dozen years as a Dunkin’ Donuts employee and franchise owner. For Monica Enright, operating partner of RCJFPA Management, Inc., owners of five Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania, making the most of your drive-thru means giving it the attention it truly deserves.

“At the end of the day, the drive-thru is a second business,” she says. “It’s another way to reach more people. If you can do it, you should do it.”

The drive-thru business accounts for about 60 percent of RCJFPA’s sales, which is about on par with what most franchisees report, according to DDIFO Restaurant Analyst John A. Gordon, the founder and principal of Pacific Management Consulting Group. His data shows that the drive-thru sales mix is 60 percent or more of total store sales.

“Restaurants with drive-thrus bring in, at a minimum, twice the average sales volume than those that don’t,” Gordon says.

In its 2015 Drive-Thru Performance Study, QSR Magazine reported some restaurant chains are now reporting drive-thru comp sales exceeding dining room comp sales. Dunkin’ franchisees know why. Drive-thrus are convenient for guests, particularly in bad weather, plus customers have an expectation – based on past history – that they can generally get through the drive-thru pretty quickly and get on their way. Gordon and QSR Magazine make the point, however, that speed isn’t enough to keep them coming back. Orders must be accurate.IMG_2317

Strategies for Success

For its 2015 Performance Study, QSR commissioned 1882 mystery shopper visits to 890 restaurants representing 29 chains, and what they found was that accuracy had increased or stayed about the same across all dayparts.

At Enright’s Dunkin’ shops, like so many others, drive-thru efficiency comes from effectively training the staff. It sounds straightforward enough, until you consider all the variables. There is employee turnover, which can make franchisees feel like they are always going back to square one with basic training. Then there is the constant evolution of technology, which requires specific training. And, there is the influx of new products as part of the growing product mix.

“I feel we are always in training,” says Enright. “It takes about 3-4 weeks for a new worker to feel confident to work at the drive-thru. And, you always need to have a senior person there.”

Successful franchisees say managing the drive-thru as its own entity can really improve customer satisfaction.

“It’s almost like having two businesses in one,” says Danny Costa, the managing partner of MDM Management Group, LLC, based in Acton, Massachusetts. MDM Management Group operates 43 Dunkin’ franchises in Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

“There’s a team who manages the front counter and a team who manages the drive-thru. We typically have one or two managers in a store, and they have different skill sets to help with set up and staff deployment. It’s important to make sure people are in their places and have the ability to do their jobs.”

They also need supplies stocked and at their fingertips.

Drive-Thru-0232“The layout of basic items, like having lids and cups in a certain place, really speeds up the entire process,” Costa says. “Everything needs to be well-thought out and efficient. It really affects the speed of service.”

Franchisees need proper systems in place to ensure compliance with the 150-seconds-or-less drive-thru time Dunkin’ sets as a goal for operators. Turning around an order in that timeframe can be a piece of cake when the customer wants two medium regulars; it’s a different challenge when the customer orders a Coolatta, an Iced Macchiato, two bakery sandwiches and hash browns—or a dozen donuts. Many operators offer an “Express Dozen” of predetermined – and popular – donut types to speed up the process of delivering a dozen through the drive-thru.

Costa has one more piece of advice: “Make sure your friendliest person is the one greeting people at the speaker, and your best coffee maker is making coffee. A lot of those things add up to seconds and seconds add up to satisfaction on the customer side.”

Thinking Outside the Box

What happens outside the store is important for faster drive-thru sales, too, according to Gordon. Improving sound and clarity in the intercom speakers, known as squawk boxes, is key. You want to be sure that your employees and customers are able to communicate clearly. To that end, he says, Starbucks is placing video screens in 2,400 drive-thru lanes across the country over the next year. Drivers will see the employee, along with images of items ordered and costs. The goal, he says, is to eliminate the impersonal feeling of ordering into a box. The chain wants to see if it can also improve accuracy.

Some chains are now using wirelessly connected tablets in the hands of employees to take orders directly from the customers as they wait in the line. According to Gordon, operators like it because, “An order-taker can punch requests into a laptop-like device, which is transmitted into the store. If there’s a long line in the chute, this helps speed things up and a driver doesn’t have to stop and speak into a squawk box.”

It’s In the Bag

Another consideration for fast and efficient drive-thru service is packaging. And here Gordon says, Dunkin’ excels. “You want to have packaging that travels well,” he says. “You’re putting food and drinks into the customer’s hand. The cups can’t spill. They need to be thick enough so that people aren’t burned by them, and the bag and wrapper need to be of sufficient quality.” If a guest is buying a bagful of breakfast sandwiches, the food needs to have some chance of staying hot until the driver gets to his or her destination, he adds.

At the same time, customers need to be confident the order was done right before they drive off. To help ensure accuracy McDonald’s is implementing a program called “Ask, ask, tell,” where employees must twice confirm a customer’s order: once at the intercom, again at the window before payment, and
then again when the paper bag is handed to the driver. Paper bags are also kept open – instead of folded shut – so the customer can look inside quickly to confirm the order is correct. According to a November 2015 article in Bloomberg, drive-thru order accuracy has increased by 2-3 percentage points since
the program was tested at McDonald’s restaurants last summer.

With new advances in technology and procedures coming to drive-thrus across the country, Dunkin franchisees – and other quick service restaurant operators – will have greater choices for how to ensure speedy, friendly and accurate service for their customers.