New Study Finds Fast Food Drive-Thrus Are Getting Less Friendly

There's a chill in the air of late, and we're not just referring to the fact that it's now pumpkin spice season. Rather, we're talking about customer service, and, more specifically, customer service at the drive-thru of fast-food restaurants. Earlier this week, Intouch Insight, a firm that specializes in optimizing customer service for fast food restaurant chains and other multi-location businesses, released the results of its 22nd annual investigation into how some of the biggest players in the quick service industry stack up in terms of meeting customer expectations at the drive-thru, via an October 3rd press release

According to the resulting study — released in partnership with QSR Magazine — which used Intouch Insight's data to release its own QSR Drive-Thru Report, things are quite a bit less friendly at the fast-food drive-thru than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Based on a national survey of consumers who had visited at least one drive-thru in the preceding 30 days, the perceived friendliness of fast-food employees staffing the drive-thru at 10 of the biggest fast-food chains has declined notably since 2019.

For purposes of the study, perceived friendliness was assessed using the following criteria, as rated by the participating consumers: eye contact, pleasantness of demeanor, saying please and thank you, and smiling, via the study. Participating customers rated perceived friendliness as either friendly, not friendly, or neutral. Subjective? Yes, but the results nevertheless would appear to follow a pattern. 

Study reveals friendly service can mean faster, more accurate drive-thru service

Intouch Insight surveyed more than 1,000 drive-thru customers of Arby's, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Chick Fil-A, Dunkin, Hardee's, KFC, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's — 10 of the biggest players in the quick service industry. And the news is not good when it comes to friendly service, overall, per Intouch Insight's October 3 press release.

"Service with a smile" is traditionally prioritized as a business value, per SalesForce. Friendly service plays a particularly important role in the fast-food drive-thru segment of the restaurant industry, because, as Intouch Insight's research reveals, fast-food orders are 15% more accurate and three minutes faster, on average, when placed with friendly employees, according to Intouch Insight's aforementioned October 3rd press release. Moreover, based on the average price of a fast-food meal, unfriendly service can cost a restaurant more than $180,000 in losses per store per year. Unfortunately, since 2019, the overall perception of friendliness on the part of fast-food drive-thru employees has now dwindled by 7% — for an industry-wide rating of 72%.

Chick-fil-A nevertheless distinguishes itself with a friendliness score of 88%, according to the study. This might be a factor in Chick-fil-A's top-rated performance in terms of speed at the drive-thru, although recent innovations at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru may also play a role. Following close behind is Carl's Jr. at 83%. So which chains are dragging the average down? Among the chains perceived as least friendly are McDonald's (61%) and Wendy's (58%).