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DUBLIN, Ohio — An annual national survey of drive-thru performance finds that Wendy's continues to have the fastest drive-thru performance in 2012. Its rival, Burger King, had the slowest times.
Performance examiner Insula Research's Drive-Thru Performance Study evaluated drive-thru operations for a benchmark group of restaurant chains, which includes Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Krystal, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's. These key chains were chosen for their overall strong performance. In addition, the group includes a seventh different chain not in the group that is changed from year to year. In 2012, that chain was Bojangles.
QSR magazine published the top-line results of the Insula study for the benchmark group in its October 2012 issue. Results published include average service time, order accuracy, customer service, exterior appearance, and more.
Wendy's once again proved to be the fastest drive-thru in the industry, while Burger King posted the slowest time of service average.
"Researchers enter the drive-thru with a stopwatch and begin recording times for specific customer touch points," says Insula Research President, Brian Baker. "Time of Service is measured from the moment of reaching the Order station to the time it takes to complete the transaction at the Pick-up window."
By averaging the times during 318 visits to Wendy's across America, Insula Research found that Wendy's was 20 seconds faster than second-place Taco Bell. Wendy's has habitually finished in the top spot, or near it, for most of the study's history, which began in 1998. Burger King this year finished last in the Time of Service category. All restaurants in the survey were visited an average of 300 times. Insula researchers and its mystery shoppers time their own journey through the drive-thru, as well as the progress from a randomly selected vehicle in line. In all, more than 4,000 timing studies were conducted at over 2,000 fast-food restaurants.
Dave Norman, chairman of the Old Fashioned Franchise Association, which independently represents Wendy's franchise owners with their 2,000 locations, says, "A chart in QSR magazine shows that Wendy's has actually increased the amount of time at the drive-thru window by almost 30 seconds over eight years, but so had everyone else. That's because the menus continue to expand and have special limited-time-only offerings, which complicates the drive-thru times."
"We are not like Chick-fil-A or McDonald's," says the Maryland-based franchisee whose own company runs over 150 Wendy's restaurants. The Old Fashioned Franchise Association leader declares, "We don't just reach into a warming drawer and pull out the sandwich. In Wendy's case, we don't make the sandwich until the customer orders it." Norman adds, "The fact that Wendy's restaurants are able to keep the fastest drive-thru times with tremendous accuracy in terms of satisfying the customer is a testament on how we have organized our operations."
Branding guru Robert Passikoff, president of New York City-based consultancy Brand Keys, thinks this is much ado about little. To him it is proof that sometimes researchers and companies will measure just about anything. "That's one of those excellent answers to a meaningless question," declares Passikoff.
From his vantage point, consumers will not be less loyal to a brand for being slightly slower at the drive-thru.
Passikoff and his firm Brand Keys is known for measuring and ranking major chains by what he thinks really matter, brand loyalty. He reminds brand managers and operators that the key brand value for Wendy's is from healthy and fresh menu offerings. He declares that is where the brand and its franchisees will get the most bang for their marketing buck.
"Folks have gotten used to a certain level of drive-thru service and so expectations about a few seconds more and a slight degree more accuracy won't be extraordinary," proclaims Passikoff.
Chick-fil-A was judged to be the friendliest brand in the survey, as well as the most likely to correctly take a customer's order.
"Chick-fil-A does a really nice job with our customer service category," says A.J. Fox , marketing director for Insula Research. "We ask researchers to report their interaction with the employees as very friendly, pleasant, average, mechanical or rude."
Surprisingly, the word "Please" is rarely used in the drive-thru process. "Which is a little strange considering they are asking you for your hard-earned money," says Fox.