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stories from the drive through


Last night after getting off work after 9p and having not eaten I went to BK - a rarity for me as I probably eat fast food no more than 4 times a year. Anyway there were 4 cars ahead of me in the line, it was 5 minutes before I could order (shout through an intercom system, repeat order 3 times) and then I waited and waited and waited. The line moved at a snail's pace. I wanted to quit and go home for a sandwich but of course I was stuck with cars in front and behind.

Eventually I got to the window, there was one cook, and one server who was doing the window, the orders, the cash, the drinks AND the in-house orders and payments. The whole wait was 17 minutes which I think was way too long for a 'fast food' place.

What else bugs you at the drive thru? How often do you get the wrong order, incomplete order? This is not about whether we like or abhor BK, McD's etc but what can and does go wrong.

  1. Years ago, I solved the problem you experienced. I don't do drive-thru.

    7 Replies
    1. re: RedTop

      Similarly, I won't go to a drive through unless the line is 2 cars or fewer. And even then, I'd rather go in, better chance they get the order right that way

      1. re: L2k

        ah well the problem here was the way the drive through is built - when I got to the drive thru there was only one car at the order microphone - what I didn't know was that there were 3 cars around the corner. Clever design eh?

        1. re: smartie

          Very clever, Most of these places have an orbit that defies judgment observation beyond the point of no return.

      2. re: RedTop

        My New Year Resolution in 2006 was to not do drive through. I have kept that one.

        I laugh when I see 7 cars at the Starbucks..and wonder why everyone complains about high fuel prices...

        I laugh more when I am walking out and the car that went into line when I was parking is still in the line while I am walking back to my car with my purchase.

        1. re: RedTop

          I tried that approach, but whenever I do that the cashiers are spending all their time doing takeout orders and it actually takes 2-3x as long inside. The last time I went to McDonald's for breakfast, I went inside and waited about 35 minutes from the time I walked in until I got my food because only one out of every five orders coming out of the kitchen was for parties eating in. I think 25 of those minutes were after I ordered, and even then I saw a few people walking out because they were tired of waiting.

          1. re: queencru

            Sounds like you picked the wrong McDonalds, queencru. Was the manager dead?

            1. re: RedTop

              I have no clue, but it was really not different from the problems I've experienced in many places when I choose to go inside and carry out instead of going through the drive through. This was just such a big store that the problems ended up getting magnified because there were more people ahead of you in line waiting to get food. I will not be going to that one ever again.

        2. I've found most of the drive-thrus and fast food restaurants run a bare-bones staff later in the evening. In fact, the McDonalds a block from my work doesn't even use the speaker after 9, you have to pull up to the window to order. Not a big deal, I just make sure I think hard about how hungry I am.

          1. I do Wendy's drive-thru occasionally due to their close proximity to my office. I always get the chicken BLT salad and ask for ranch dressing... its a crap shoot with the dressing- 50% of the time I get ranch, the other times I get honey mustard (which i detest) which is the standard with that salad.

            1. Back when I worked the Drive-thru (does that make me sound old?) we had contests to see who was the fastest & most accurate. Times have changed! (definitely old!)

              What bugged me from the worker standpoint is when people would park too far away from the window so I had to climb thru the window to hand food over or get money. Friday nights late were always a riot due to the characters that came thru.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jenscats5

                Your last sentence reminded me of a story when I was working late night McDonald's drive through back when I was in high school. Four guys in a car pull up and ordered food, but as part of their order they ask for four waters... however, they wanted one of the waters to have vinegar/salt/etc in it to make it disgusting. They wanted all 4 to look the exact same from the outside so they can play water roulette or something. I feel bad for whichever one got the disgusting one! Suprisingly, they seemed completey sober (at least the driver did).

                1. re: kwjd

                  Water roulette! That's interesting....

                2. re: jenscats5

                  I did the same through high school. I don't think people realize they're saying, "Hamburger, no pickles, large fries and a coke" and we were hearing, "Shhhchchhh- ger. no sshhhhchles, lar-shshchh-ies, and a shhchhhk." The intercoms were terrible. My baby monitor on the wrong channel was clearer than that and don't forget there's a restaurant full of people cooking, yelling, etc. behind you.

                  When I worked there, though, we were often timed. Two minutes to get people out of the drive-thru. If the order wasn't ready, you were supposed to send them to park and bring it out to them, rain, blizzaard, whatever. All for $2.15 an hour. People on CH are so sympathetic to waiters/waitresses but sometimes don't seem to be as sympathetic to the workers at other food places. If someone were to complain about service at a restaurant, you'd get a ton of responses about how hard it is to be a server, how little they're paid, etc.

                3. I don't eat fast food anymore but back when I was a teenager growing up in southern CA, I loved doing drive thrus, esp at In N Out Burgers. My pet peeve aside from the sub-par intercom system was having the driver immediately in front of me (and it was ALWAYS the driver immediately front of me) ordering lunch for his/her entire office. It would take ages and then finally you would see the server handing out bag after bag of food and just when you thought they were done, the server would start handing out the trays of drinks. Of course that would cause an even further delay because inevitably, the driver (who was ALWAYS alone) then had to figure out how to store/stack all the drinks without spilling them. Always wondered how they got everything out of the car and back to the office.

                  1. I remember a few summers back hearing about an ornery KFC drive thru server in my hometown who yelled at patrons through the intercom. So of course, my friends and I had to go and check it out, maybe bust her chops a bit! We pulled up to the ordering intercom and asked for a 20-piece bucket of white meat. Her screaming, angry response: "WE ONLY GOT EIGHTEEN PIECES a WHITE MEAT!!! WOULD YOU LIKE A WING??? OR A THIGH?????"

                    We laughed so hard, we had to drive away!! :o)

                    1. Vegetarian bugs: when ordering any veggie burger at most drive-thru's..you are almost always asked to "pull ahead and park" while they spend an extra 20 mins compiling your order. What's the point.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: im_nomad

                        I like meat, but I do crave veggie burgers. They always came out of the drive-thru shriveled and half-cold, limply adorned and overly slathered in condiments, like the red-headed stepchildren they were. I always thought that my patties had been under the heating lamp for hours, waiting for the sucker that was me.

                      2. this whole thread makes me happy to live in NYC

                        1. Take the g-son and his friends to McD's after ice hockey games as they're always starving. We just beat an undefeated team in the 1st of a 3 game playoff and this one kid loved to fight and is/was a really dirty player. Anyway, they're in front of us at the drive thru. When I pull up to the window to get my order the server says he has a note from our "cousins" who were in the car in front. I asked him to read it and it said "Watch Out Tomorrow". Server said it was written by the MOTHER !!!! Well we won the next night to close out the championship and when I saw the Mother (I didn't know her) I said the note from McD's - I guess it was a back atcha lol!!! She ran for her car.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Linda VH

                            Man, the Suburbs are tough.

                          2. I worked fast food for 6 years in highschool and college (ended up managing and got a nice college scholarship out of it!) so I have extensive experience with the drive through... for every crazy customer we got in the store, there are 1.5 drivethrough crazies. People who get to the window and want to completely change their order, people who try to do unconventional things at the window (try to hand us back trash which we can't take, ask for drink refills which we also cant take, etc,) people who's cars have issues that cost time (can't roll down windows, stalling cars,) people who CUT line and screw the ordering system up by jumping in after the intercom but before the window, people who refuse to park their car to wait for an order to come out but instead insist on sitting at the window, etc. Add on top of this the cars full of screaming children, barking dogs, loud radios and the HUNDREDS of people on cell phones when they try to order and even the most sophisticated intercom isn't going to help. My store used to routinely average over 100 drivethrough orders PER HOUR during Saturday lunch rushes *just* at the drivethrough, despite the above issues...so also keep in mind that a lot of these employees are working their butts off for 9+hour shifts at an extremely fast pace. While it's not the most intellectually trying job, its definitely tough work for almost no pay. Cut them some slack.
                            As a sidenote, something you might not think of if you've never worked in a drivethrough...PLEASE turn off your windshield wipers when you arrive at the window. Nothing sucks more than being soaked with nasty dirty rainwater over...and over...and over during a shift.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: CarmenR

                              I wouldn't say that the job doesn't try the intellect. Any food service job requires one to stay on task for hour after hour, at a pace the wears the body, and, eventually, the mind follows suit. Most of us never know when, or if, a break is coming, and that can make the rush seem much longer than the two hours it *usually* spans.

                              And . . . sorry about the wipers. I didn't know. It won't happen again.

                              1. re: CarmenR

                                Right on Carmen. I was a GM at a national chain for 3 years. When I had my exit interview with the franchise owner I told him putting up with the customers was the hardest part of the job. This was the last straw for me, this clown punched and broke the drive-thru window about 20 minutes after we had closed at 6pm on Christmas eve, I could go on and on....

                                1. re: CarmenR

                                  I have TONS of sympathy for folks working drive thru! ack! the windshield wipers!

                                  I generally go inside, because I have better success... and because my dh SHOUTS into the speaker as if the person taking the order is deaf.

                                  1. re: jujuthomas

                                    The best help for drive through is to have your order ready to stay, in order if possible, and then go through it slowly. It's been years but I'd pull up with, "Three happy meals, two with hamburgers, one with chicken nuggets, two with cokes, one with milk." Done, they input as it's received. I've been complimented by drive through people for it. Years of doing it and you know what helps. My husband is the worst. "Ummm, ummmm, two hamburgers." Stop, waits for prompt. "Ummm, a coke." Stops again, waits for prompt. "Oh, no pickle on the hamburger." Another prompt about both burgers or just one. "Two happy meals." "No, those first hamburgers were for the Happy Meals." I can feel the frustration rising in the counterperson...

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      My boyfriend is one of those. He always has all of these questions, and amendments, while I slide down in my seat, cringing, and hiss, "Just ORDER" through my teeth.

                                      We were in a drive-thru yesterday here in Chicago that is a little famous for its 'rules', and a legend of the treatment you will receive if you break any of the big ones (and having your order ready before you approach is probably the biggest. We decided what our order was before we even got into the car.

                                      As we were pulling up to the window, and my boyfriend said, "Mmmm . . . hm hm hm, maybe I'll have the chicken. But I do want a philly. How many fries do we need? Are you sure that's enough? Really? You're sure? Do you want onion rings? Onion rings are always good. Hey, *maybe* I want the gyro bowl again. That was a damn good gyro. What do you want to drink? Are you sure? Are you sure, honey?"

                                      As the woman approached the window to take our order, I interrupted to say in my iciest voice, "Do *not* get us banned from here."

                                2. My favorite drive through story was from my mom. When she and my dad were young and wild, they had been out at a party with another couple and the men had imbided well past where they should. They ran through the drive through at Jack In The Box on the way home. My dad ordered for the car from the passenger window in the back. 2 Hamburgers, 4 Tacos, fries, 3 Cokes, 1 Vanilla Shake, and no "f@cking" apple pie. The nice lady working the drive through repeated the order, and then asked and "Sir, would you like an apple pie with that?" And then she caught herself and said, "Oh, no, I don't think you would!" They laughed the entire 45 minutes home.

                                  1. Generally I think if the service at the drive-thru is lousy then the service inside is no better.

                                    My favorite drive-thru experience occurred at a McDonald's in Seattle during the summer of '84. Four of us were in a friends Jeep and I was seated behind the driver. We ordered and the food arrived in a timely manner but the driver had let the Jeep roll a little forward. Now I had to take the food from the window person. While unloading the bag of food I quickly took the drivers hamburger and took a huge bite out of it, re-wrapped it and passed the rest of the food up front. Next thing I know the driver is cursing, waving around the hamburger and throwing the Jeep into reverse, threatening to kill a McDonald's employee. The two of us in the back are laughing hysterically and yelling for the driver to stop. I told him that I took the bite and handed him another hamburger. The driver finally calmed down but the rest of us had tears rolling down our faces from laughing.

                                    1. Not too long ago I was musing (yes musing) over the fact that FF places never forget the straw at the drive thru. I asked around. All agreed that they had never driven off without the straw safely tucked into the bag. I thought I had struck on something that defied probability - or maybe even nature... hmmm

                                      Then the other night I cried out for Frugals (A local hamburger place specializing in marionberry thick shakes). I sent out faithful hubby. He came back with my shake - but no straw. I can deal with a strawless coke, but a thick, flunk in your face if you tipped it to drink it shake? NOOOOO!!!.

                                      Sassafrassitmassit. An intolerable way to have a personal theory of an anti-ism shattered.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        jfood's theory is that if a shake can come through a straw then it is not thick enough. No fun unless you have a chocolate mustache. :-))

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          The straw has to be very wide and the sucking must threaten to collapse the soft palate. Otherwise I am 100% behind jfood!

                                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                            We always used to say you need to be able to get a hernia from the draw (on the straw) or it is not thick enough!

                                        2. re: Sal Vanilla

                                          The (relatively) new method of tucking the straw into the bag is the downfall here when you have no bag to tuck it into (assuming he only ordered the shake). I remember at least some places used to hand you drink with straw, then bag a minute later when that was ready. Now more likely to wait and hand you all at once, with straw in bag. If you get an order where you have to wait for food but they've already given you drink, watch out for missing straw! Same with no bag.

                                        3. I used to work the night shift and would get out of work at around 4 am. One day I had a misguided craving for Taco Bell so went through the drive through. I pull up to the ordering board but no one responds. I slowly inch up to the window and see a guy coming towards the window from the back while adjusting his pants. A few seconds later a girl with disheveled hair comes out and heads towards the kitchen. I drive off and have never eaten there since.

                                          1. Must tell you my funny story about KFC drive-through here in the UK....I've only done drive-through about half a dozen times ever, as a novelty for my kids, but I've rarely laughed as much as I did after this experience: I drove up to the speaker and said what I wanted. Straightforward but I didn't get any acknowledgement and could just hear a lot of general noise - so I drove round to the window to tell the girl there directly. Before I could repeat my order she said 'I can't take your order here'. As I was there in front of her having a conversation this did seem bizarre, as what was the alternative? I did wonder what she'd do if I told her anyway - would she pretend she hadn't heard? Seeing my confusion she said (verbatim) 'We have a time limit to get rid of you from this window' (!!)
                                            so I asked her what she wanted me to do and she said I had to drive back round and tell her it through the speaker. I was already laughing but did as she asked (how could I disappoint the children by that stage?!) and when I got back round she spoke to me through the speaker as if she didn't know who I was. Then I drove BACK round to the window and she kindly let me have my order! She couldn't see the funny side but clearly they can't deviate from the management's routine. I'm still laughing now just thinking about it - and why did I go along with it so obediently?!

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: flashria

                                              sounds like you are as well trained as the dogs that frequent the drive throughs!

                                              1. re: flashria

                                                If I'd been told the "We have a time limit" line I'd have replied, "Then I won't be taking any more of your precious time," and driven off. Away, not around the building to repeat the experience. Sorry, the novelty doesn't justify that kind of treatment.

                                                1. re: rockycat

                                                  Of course, objectively and with retrospect you're absolutely right - truly dreadful customer focus. At the time it just seemed surreal, I couldn't believe she really would stay straight-faced and watch me drive round and round the building in order to meet company requirements - but she did!

                                                  1. re: flashria

                                                    And, I think were it have been me, I would have done the same as you, flashria. I would have been laughing too hard to take it seriously. I would have been tickled pink as I drive back around. I do feel for the person in the drive-thru though. I was a retail manager for a few years, and the mandates of what to say and how to say it within strict operating procedures can be . . . quite comprehensive.

                                                2. re: flashria

                                                  Ha! It would be way too nervy to turn off your engine and ask for the manager. Plus it wasn't the fault of the poor girl at the window that she worked for stupid control freaks. But customer policy like that really needs to be messed with.

                                                3. I rarely do drive through. When I do there's inevitably a problem.

                                                  Once got stuck behind a fat lady in a mini van. Once she got her food she did no pull away from the window. Instead she sat there for a few minutes as she made herself a buffet. I cold see her through the window carefully unwrapping things and laying them on the passenger seat and getting her drinks organized. She even took the time to have a few bites before finally driving off.

                                                  Another time had to wait a while before ordering. We moved up and paid. And found our selves in a line behind several other cars waiting for there food as well. After a few minutes the manager stuck her head out of the window and said it would be a while for our order.
                                                  "What's a while." we asked. She didn't know because they just got a big order in. We got our money back.