3 ways to open a (drive-thru) window of opportunity for fast casuals
By Jennifer Doan, director, product management, Sicom Systems
The drive-thru has always been a key differentiator between quick service and fast casual restaurants. It offers the speed of service and convenience that has become synonymous with quick service restaurants. With up to 70 percent of their business coming through the drive-thru window, it is also a significant revenue generator for QSR brands.
Traditionally, fast casual restaurants have steered clear of the drive-thru in order to maintain the reputation of providing higher quality food and a better dining experience. However, the fast casual segment is changing. After experiencing rapid growth for years, the fast casual segment's growth is slowing. The market is maturing and becoming saturated, requiring fast casual restaurants to look for new ways to stay ahead of the competition.
It's not as simple as installing a window on the side of a building. A drive-thru operation requires a certain type of real estate, as well as menu options that can be delivered quickly, outdoor digital signage, proper crew training and technologies to ensure speed of service and customer satisfaction.
A number of fast casual brands have already taken the leap and opened drive-thru windows at some of their locations. Panera Bread is a prime example of a fast casual operator that experienced a 25-30 percent increase in revenue when it first opened drive-thrus. Chipotle is now realizing the value of a drive-thru window and opening its first one this fall in Ohio; however, it is steering clear of the "drive-thru" terminology calling it a "vehicular pickup window."
By offering consumers higher-quality food but at a greater convenience, fast casual restaurants can hit a sweet spot. Think of the parent with young children who is looking for healthy options for their family but wants the "stay-in-the-car convenience" drive-thru offers. This is a major opportunity for fast casual restaurants, but it must be done the right way.
Once you have a location that can handle drive-thru traffic and have analyzed your menu to determine whether the production of your menu items is possible in the expected delivery time, you need to leverage the proper technologies to meet your customer demands of speed of service, order accuracy and customer satisfaction, while also positively affecting your bottom line.
Outdoor digital signage
The first thing you need to do is grab the attention of the consumer. Installing outdoor digital menu boards that offer high definition digital graphics and vivid video elements is essential to captivating guests. Outdoor digital menu boards not only enable fast casual restaurants to easily tailor menu board content, but also increase the average check amount through suggestive selling functionality. Today's advanced technologies offer weather-resistant signage that enables brands to bring their indoor ambiance to the drive-thru experience.
Order confirmation systems
Outdoor order confirmation units are another technology that can make or break a drive-thru. By leveraging OCUs, fast casual restaurants can engage guests at the moment of purchase while also enabling their managers to proactively address stock-outs and promote items with excess inventory. Integrating OCUs with the restaurant's point of sale (POS) system can improve order accuracy while delivering a more engaging guest experience.
In the fast casual space, speed of service is important but not on the same level as quick service restaurants. However, with drive-thru windows, speed of service is an absolute must. Speed of service solutions leverage sensor-based data to accurately measure speed of service, automate order management and provide a real-time visualization of drive-thru traffic at all times. Their ability to provide a more efficient, effective and satisfying guest experience for drive-thru customers, enables fast casual restaurants to continue to deliver a customized, higher quality dining experience that their customers have come to expect.
Technology opens new windows
The technologies are now available to empower fast casual restaurants to compete for the business of the on-the-go, stay-in-your-car consumers who are not only demanding speed of service and convenience but also want the quality and customizable menu items that they have become accustomed to at fast casual establishments.
Cover photo: iStock