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When did fastfood drive thru stop being drive thru and fast?

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My last two drive thru experiences involved me paying for my food and being told to park and wait for the food to be brought to me. When did this start happening? Because it's gotten to the point where parking, walking in, ordering, and leaving is becoming faster than waiting in a line of traffic only to be told to park and wait. I blame the sprawling list of menu items that take forever to navigate and just as long to decide on what to get. 

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  1. It's happened occasionally to me for years. I think the effort to make everything fresh, and to order has more to do with it than the time it takes a customer to choose what they want to eat.

    Personally I don't mind wait a bit if I know my food will be hot.

    1. My experience is that In-n-Out offers efficient drive-through service. Perhaps it's at chains that have tried to move their burgers up market where this is a problem.

      1 Reply
      1. re: GH1618

        They are excellent in that area. When the lines get long, they send someone out to take your order before you even reach the intercom. You bypass that and your order is ready when you reach the window.

      2. easy rule of thumb - any more than 2-3 cars in line? go in. easier to fumble with change or debit card anyway when standing. and it's more personal. you're up in their faces (smiling and nice of course) but not just some voice on the intercom.

        1. what did you order? is it straight out of the bin or did you ask for no cheese, extra pickles, mayo instead of ketchup, etc. that's the most common reason i've been asked to pull to the parking lot.

          every once in a while the "kitchen" gets backed up on a certain item and you have to wait for them to catch up. they don't want to make the entire line of cars to have to wait.

          1. I have heard industry types say that the breakpoint between using the drive through vs. parking and going in is four cars in line.

            I'd say the problem is more than just people taking too long to choose from the big menus. The complex variety of menu items also slows down the production flow inside. That's why places like In-n-Out, who have tended to stick with comparatively simple menus, are able to keep their lines moving faster.

            4 Replies
            1. re: johnb

              When I used to go to the In-n-Out drive-through, the line would be 15 to 20 cars long at lunchtime. This was not a problem, because it moved quickly. Waiting for a parking space to open up, then waiting in line inside, would take longer and be less convenient if one wants to go right back to the office anyway.

              1. re: johnb

                The only place where the line length never seems to make a difference in Chik Fil A. I haven't been in quite a while but from what I remember the line of cards could be 10 deep and it's always speedy.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  Really? I need to visit your Chikfila then because mine's drive thru moves sooooo slow. You're right on the 10 cars deep thing, though. It's definitely one of the more crowded drive thrus I visit, but unfortunately for me, it moves that way, too.

                  On the plus side, Chikfila has some of the friendliest workers and my food is always hot and my order always accurate, so the wait doesn't bother me too much.

                  1. re: SaraAshley

                    Very interesting, I've been to a few in the area and they all seem to be super speedy and yes the food is always hot and I never am frustrated to find the wrong food in my bag which happens upwards of 50% at other places.

              2. I have no problem with parking and waiting, plus it speeds up the drive through line. Whataburger does this all the time. I'd rather have hot, fresh food than the crap the big three churns out at breakneck speed.

                4 Replies
                1. re: James Cristinian

                  The efficiency of the line is what makes drive-through work or not. You're going to get the same food if you park and stand in line on the inside. If the quality of drive-through service has gone down for a particular chain, I expect it is because that is not where the owners have putting the emphasis.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    At Whataburger the food is cooked to order, and I know the concept is hard to grasp in today's everyone is in a hurry society. I blame McDonald's for the pre-cooked junk coming out of fast food windows today. They perfected the pre-fab concept and Burger King and Wendy's followed, their food was once also cooked to order, but now they've followed McDonald's down the road of mediocrity. I don't mind waiting off to the side to get hot, fresh food.

                    1. re: James Cristinian

                      In-n-Out cooks to order, and their drive-through works.

                  2. re: James Cristinian

                    I agree with pulling up and getting it hot and fresh at Whataburger. The other place is DQ(excellent onion rings). But I've noticed the 2 cars behind me just got a drink or ice cream cone. Just move the line along...and that's what this thread is all about.

                  3. I'm fine with the practice. I get my food freshly prepared and hot. And it moves my waiting car out of the way so everyone else can keep moving along and get their stuff.

                    1. maybe I just like getting out of my car. granted I don't get to choose the ambient music, but that'll be there later.

                      1. I think it has to do with the complexity of the menu both to order from AND to prepare...back in the day the menu board at McD's or Wendy's was probably a third the size.

                        More build complexity=longer prep time, plus longer learning time for any new employees (and turnover is notoriously high at most FF establishments)

                        I almost always park and go in. It seems you have a higher chance of actually getting what you ordered, plus you can more easily check it before you walk out.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: coney with everything

                          Fully agree. I now rarely use the drive through window. Typically, it's faster and more accurate to walk in.

                          I also prefer that few minutes of moving around vs. sitting.

                          1. re: coney with everything

                            The whole "Value Meal" phenomena seems to be getting out of hand. You get a dozen and each can be either small, medium, large, or supersized, which adds more variables. I don't drink soda, so I just end up with something off the 99-cent menu.

                            My last trip to Taco Bell was a bewildering nightmare. I eventually gave up, got a bean burrito and steak soft taco and got the hell out of there. Do we really need eight thousand combinations of beans/meat/tortilla?

                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                              Had a huge fight with my husband over fast food and wanting to look at the menu. Before we for there he asked what I wanted and I said I have to look at thee I. He had a fit and said he wasn't sitting there 20 minutes to look at the menu. Finally we decided not to eat fast food. Ended up at Applebee's late night which we despise to use up a gift card we had. He hates hiseal and mine. Was great. I guess the joke was on he.

                          2. It is far easier to check the order for mistakes at the counter than in your car. Learned this at Taco Bell 20 years ago.

                            Just like the bank, service is faster and better if they have to look you in the eye.

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                              That just reminded me of Joe Pesci and his rant concerning the drive-thru in one of the Lethal Weapon movies..lol

                              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                I never use the drive-thru. I like to check my food before I take off with it. While I'm there, I'd rather sit down and eat my food while it's hot than drive around with it in traffic.

                                1. re: Kate is always hungry

                                  when I do, I sit in the parking lot as the seat is more comfortable and the music is of my choice.

                                2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                  I was a drive through bank teller in my younger years, and that turned me off to drive-up anything. Inside, you've got several employees twiddling their thumbs wishing for something to do, and at the drive up, you've got one or two harried workers who have to put up with idiots complaining about having to wait in a 10 car queue.
                                  It took me a few months working the drive-up to realize that I did not need to get all stressed about trying to hurry to get them out fast. Drive ups aren't about speedy service, they're for people who simply won't get out of their car to get their food or transact bank business.
                                  With all due respect to those who frequent drive ups, it really does take as much time to cook your food or deposit your paycheck whether you are sitting or standing. There is nothing to make those functions go faster just because you are seated.

                                  1. re: kitchengardengal

                                    Yes, but you are much less likely to be involved in an armed robbery in a line than if you go inside. Fast food joints and or banks are robbed on almost a daily basis here. I know, I was in a grocery store and the bank was robbed. Two "masked gentlemen" pointed guns at me as I was trying to buy groceries, then robbed the bank. Banks make me nervous, and increasingly fast food places. I was also in a local BBQ joint, not crowded on a Saturday afternoon when two thuggish looking teens walked in, one stood by the door, the other in the middle, finally he ordered a sandwich and left. I was certain we were going to get robbed, I think they chickened out.

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      Wow. You must live in a tough neighborhood.

                                      1. re: johnb

                                        Houston, lots of banks and fast food everywhere. Tough neighborhoods like everywhere else. The bank/grocery store I was in is in a very nice neighborhood, as was the BBQ I was pretty sure we were going to be robbed. It can happen anywhere.

                                        1. re: James Cristinian

                                          That's why I think places like BBQ joints, and even fast food places, ought to use and strongly encourage debit/credit cards and discourage cash. I recall a thread on CH where many posters objected to the charges that restaurants must pay in order to accept them. While true (and hopefully we will soon get effective regulations to cap these ridiculous CC charges imposed by the banksters), still the safety of employees and customers should be more important. The more cash there is laying around the more the thugs are going to be encouraged to rob them, sometimes with tragic results. Last time I checked, Fedex didn't accept cash in its retail stores, I think at least in part for just this reason.

                                          I recall a case many years ago (this was in NYC) where the owner of a little Cuban place I loved was shot and killed in the course of a robbery. For a few percentage points, the risk just ain't worth it.

                                    2. re: kitchengardengal

                                      When i go thru drive thru i often do it because there isn't any parking in the lot. id rather spend 10 minutes in drive thru than 10 minutes waiting to play chicken with someone who has been waiting 9.6 minutes for the next available stall.

                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                        You are the exception to what modern marketing research shows customers want. Here in Connecticut, many McDonalds have been putting in double lane drive thrus and removing parking spaces.
                                        This year I represented an abutting neighbor in New Haven when McDonald's sought permission to add the second drive thru lane and cut parking spaces below the minimum required by zoning. McD's won the variance, because the city was tired of the cars backed up in the street waiting for drive thru, while the parking lot and dining room sits mostly empty.

                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                          well bagelman, some of us just get used to be exceptional right? I suspect that most mainland McDonalds have more parking spaces than a lot of the ones here. I'm guessing 16-18 stalls is normal for a free-standing Hawaii McDonald's. Zoning is one stall for every 4 seats inside. In other words about one stall per table on average.

                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                            Our zoning kaws are quite different. They are not based on the specific type of business, as opposed to a zone leballed X. X has permitted types of use and the standards are set.

                                            Thus a McDs could open in a Retail/Light Industrial zone. The zoning regs would require Y spaces per square foot. It would have nothing to do with seats and tables. The McD space might have previously been a bank or clothing store. Zoningn't require a landlord to change the number of spaces everytime there is a new tenant with a permitted use.

                                            Thus McD's wanted to put in a second drive thru lane and reduce spaces they had to apply for a zoning variance. In this case the McD's was there 40+ years. The previous occupant was also a Fast Food Hamburger chain Called Wetson's out of NYC that disappeared decades ago. Neither Wetson's or the original McD had drive thrus. McD had to get a variance to put the orig Drive Thru in about 35 years ago.

                                            In my suburban area, a typical McD will have 30 parking spaces, 40 if they have a larger playland for kids.

                                      2. re: kitchengardengal

                                        Yeah but you don't need to get the kids out of their car seats in the drive through

                                        1. re: kitchengardengal

                                          Your statement: "There is nothing to make those functions go faster just because you are seated." ignores the trials and travails of handicapped drivers who use drive thru lanes.

                                          It is far faster for my brother who drives a car using hand controls to use a drivethru than find a handicapped parking space that can accomodate his wheelchair ramp, park, put the ramp down, get out of the driver's seat and into the wheelchair and propel the chair into the bank or restaurant and then repeat in reverse.

                                          Drive-thrus make him a bit more independent and less isolated than being forced to enter each brick and mortar location or have someone else do his banking or get him a Starbucks.
                                          Yesterday, after leaving home he made 7 stops for both food, banking, cleaning, grocery pickup and never had to leave the car...
                                          So while the time neccesary to make his latte may be the same inside or at the drive thru, in his case the total time needed to get that caffeine fix is far less at the drive thru

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            Of course, bagel man and LA buckeye, you are both absolutely right. But tell me, how many of the drivers at the window are in either of those situations? Most are able bodied adults, alone just as often as not, who simply wouldn't think of getting out of the car.
                                            There's a Martin's fast food restaurant not far from my work. There are more traffic accidents in front of that place at 8:30 am than anywhere else on that street, because the drive up lane snakes out into the street even though the dining area is virtually empty. Why wait 20 minutes or more behind a dozen cars, when you can walk in and out before two cars have moved out of the line?

                                            1. re: kitchengardengal

                                              The answer for most is that they are lazy.
                                              Approx 4 nights a week at 10pm I use the drive thrum st my local McDs. I could easily park and go in. But the trip is to get an ice cream cone for my eldest dog. Diesel sits behind the driver's seat and when we get to the pickup window I pull forward and they hand the cone directly to him. Not being a service animal he is not permitted inside.

                                      3. Ever since Burger King and their 'Have it your Way" campaign. Way back when fast food meant you took the food the way it was prepared, it was fast.
                                        Assembling the items to order has both driven up the prices and slowed delivery times.

                                        There's a small hot dog restaurant about 5 miles from my home that has both a walk up counter and a drive thru.
                                        There's a big sign before you enter the drive thru line that says: "NO SPECIAL ORDERS OR SUBSTITUTIONS AT DRIVE-THRU---GO INSIDE"

                                        If you don't want you dog plain or with the works, pak get out of your car and go the counter, don't hold everyone up.

                                        Similarly, there is a local fast food chain that has put in these new soda dispensers from COKE that make 100+ combinations. The manager of our local branch told me that this new soda choice (as opposed to the 6 items previously available on tap) has added 37 seconds to the average wait time per car during meal periods.

                                        1. I don't know when it happened, and I don't mind sometimes but... I don't eat fast food often. I usually justify it by saying its fast and easy. When I have to park outside of Popeye's, wait 20 minutes, go in, remind them of my food and be told they forgot me, I get mad.

                                          1. I remember having to do that when I was a kid in the early 80s, so it's nothing new. Perhaps it is more frequent - I don't have a car so I don't exactly go through many drive throughs anymore :)

                                            1. Several reasons - some chains operate that way intentionally - Sonic and Culver's come to mind. Culver's gives you a number to hang on your window so the employees can give you the right bag. Also the menus are so large now - it's not just burger-burger-burger, but there are salads, specialty coffee drinks, ten different chicken sandwiches. Add that to the prepared fresh and hot - no more lines of burgers under a heat lamp just waiting to be ordered and picked up - and specialty orders. And the "I have three separate orders" people, may they burn in hell.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: NonnieMuss

                                                I'm of two minds on the multi-order folk. On one hand it takes them forever to place their order, and then it takes a while for it all to be prepared. On the other hand, the customer isn't trying to hold on to 8 bags and two of those flimsy cup holder trays walking back across the parking lot. And McWhopperJack doesn't give you a box to carry it all in, at least the ones I've been to. I have seen them ask a car to wait in a parking stall or wherever and then bring it out to the car, but they will send out two employees with hands full of bags and cup holders rather than put it in a box.

                                              2. kinda OT, but I was a little ticked once when on the road I was staying in a motel next to a FF place, it was late, walked over, the counter was closed (I understand, as it was an iffy area) but the d-thru was open so I walked over to that window and being a pedestrian they refused to serve me. although it seemed asinine, I walked back to the motel got in my car, drove around to their ADJACENT parking lot and then everything was all rainbows and lollipops.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  I dont know if it is some kind of law, but almost everywhere I've been pedestrians are not allowed to go through drive through. Most places claim its a liability issues, mixing vehicles with preoccupied drivers and walkers who are similarly preoccupied is not a recipe for success. There is also the issue of employee safety. Stuck between other cars and seated in a the driver's seat there is a limitation to what kind of illegal activities, like a robbery, can easily be accomplished.

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    I can see that. still seemed silly to not have a walk-up window next to an obvious cash source (and I wasn't the only one that night)

                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                      Lots of sidewalk walk-up windows in urban McDonalds and Burger Kings. Suburbs where there are no sidewalks, not so much.

                                                      Curious phenomena: people idling for a parking space at the front of the store rather than just parking at the open space a hundred feet away.

                                                    2. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      We had that rule at the drive up banking that I worked at. It was just too dangerous to have someone standing there when the cars came wheeling around the corner of the building to the drive up.
                                                      They don't see a car, and that's all they know. A person standing there just doesn't register to the driver when they are looking for the green light above the lane.

                                                  2. The only place I have this problem consistently is Arby's, because these days they never have potato cakes ready for some reason and I have to wait for a new batch. Seems like fries can be a problem at other places as well.