Wait time zero: The need for speed

| by Noah Glass
Wait time zero: The need for speed

"I feel the need ... the need for speed!”

It’s one of the most famous quotes from one of the highest grossing movies of all time – the 1986 epic, “Top Gun” – but it also sums up nearly a century of foodservice. Since the advent of fast food, top operators have been in a foot race to provide the fastest service, without sacrificing quality and accuracy. Industry studies only raise the stakes, proving repeatedly that faster service leads to greater market share. 

Restaurant efficiency experts cite the “seven-second rule,” referring to data proving that a seven-second reduction in customer wait times increases a chain’s market share by as much as 1 percent. That can make quite a difference. A recent Kellogg School of Management paper, "How Much Is a Reduction of Your Customers' Wait Worth? An Empirical Study of the Fast-Food Drive-Thru Industry Based on Structural Estimation Methods,” takes it even further. Using data gathered in the Chicago area (Cook County), the researchers compared competitors’ pricing and wait times within the same geographic area. The results showed a causal link between wait times and sales volumes that met the seven-second rule, but it also proved that the size of a chain can amplify the benefit of speed. The report concluded that “for a large chain like McDonald’s, [decreased wait time] would result in an increase[d market share] by more than 3 percent.”

Why does a decrease in wait time increase market share? That’s simple. All things being equal (price, service, and quality), customers choose fast over slow. For those of us who have had to make a choice between two lines and, time and again, pick the slower one, it’s not hard to believe this finding. So what is the ideal service experience?

Wait time zero.

Imagine being able to provide your customer with his order precisely as he arrived at your store, independent of how long that order took to prepare. And this isn’t just for QSRs. The promise of wait time zero not only levels the playing field between competitors, it flattens out all dining segments: casual dining, fast casual, and fast food.

Digital ordering makes it all happen, by allowing the customer to order and pay ahead of time and schedule a desired pickup time. That means a restaurant’s kitchen can prepare the order just-in-time and have it bagged and staged for the customer’s arrival. Regardless of how customized the order is, digital ordering time-shifts the order prep to the time before the customer arrives, enabling pickup on demand.

Wait time zero may seem like an impossible goal for operators used to the old way of doing things, with order prep starting only after a customer has arrived at the store, waited to place his order, and paid for it. In such a world, wait time zero is literally impossible. But not so in this new world, that has customers walking around with web-enabled and location-aware smartphones in their pockets. Because of digital ordering, those smartphones are a POS system, and waiting in line is whatever the customer wants it to be.

Many operators will resist the shift to digital ordering and wait time zero. They will either drag their feet or flat out refuse to change their business models and adapt. And if the Kellogg paper is accurate, the market will shift away from these operators bit by bit as customers opt for faster and faster service until they no longer have to wait at all.

This is the competitive foot race of our time – one that we will watch unfold in the public market and in Top 100 rankings. The need for speed has never been greater. Fortunately, restaurant operators have the key to that speed in their pocket – and their customers’ pockets, too.

Photo provided by Wikimedia.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, Operations Management, Trends / Statistics

Noah Glass
Noah Glass is the Founder & CEO of Olo. Since 2005, Olo has helped restaurant brands increase revenue per square foot through faster, more accurate, and more personal service with digital ordering. wwwView Noah Glass's profile on LinkedIn

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