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Drive-thrus are getting slower and messing up your orders more, study shows

When looking at the average speed of service between 2020 and 2021, the study found drive-thrus were 25.59 seconds slower.
Credit: fadedphotographs - stock.adobe.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Well-known fast-food restaurants are getting slower and less accurate with their drive-thrus, according to SeeLevel HX's 2021 drive-thru study report.

The fast-food restaurants included in this report are Arby's, Burger King, Carl's Jr., Chick-fil-A, Dunkin', Hardee's, KFC, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's.

From July to early August, more than 1,400 drive-thru shops were traveled to, according to the report. Mystery shoppers were used during this study, according to CNBC. Each time, a hot sandwich, side item, drink and special request was ordered. 

When looking at the average speed of service between 2020 and 2021, the drive-thrus were 25.59 seconds slower, the study reports.

Along with that, only 85 percent of the stops ended up with accurate orders, according to the report. Inaccurate orders raised by two percent since 2020 from 13 percent to 15 percent.

The report also shared the chains that had the most accurate orders. Here are the top five:

  1. Chick-fil-A
  2. Taco Bell
  3. Arby's, Burger King and Carl's Jr.

The report did not release the rankings for which fast-food chains had the fastest drive-thru lanes, CNBC reports. KFC was first on the list in 2020.

Following the trend of decline, the friendliness of service went down slightly since the 2019 score. Originally at 79 percent in 2019, the friendliness of the drive-thru experience is now at 73 percent in 2021.

And because we've dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and a half, the 2021 report included numbers for mask usage seen across the restaurants.

  • Arby's: 50 percent
  • Burger King: 52 percent 
  • Carl's Jr.: 81 percent 
  • Chick-fil-A: 45 percent 
  • Dunkin': 56 percent 
  • Hardee's: 39 percent 
  • KFC: 53 percent 
  • McDonald's: 67 percent 
  • Taco Bell: 58 percent 
  • Wendy's: 47 percent 

In the year 2020, 91 percent of the country was reported to wearing masks, while the percentage dropped to 54 percent in 2021.

97.5 percent of orders were reportedly handed to the mystery shoppers by the team member.

On a more positive note, the Top 5 Main Entree Rating for 2021 was included with Chick-fil-A as number one, Arby's in second, Taco Bell in third, McDonald's as fourth and KFC in fifth. The report says these chains reached the expectations of the customers with the taste of the food they ordered.

These differences in numbers from this 2021 report could be an effect of the pandemic that has caused fast-food chains to raise wages to combat worker shortages along with dropping menu items.

The study did offer one way to speed up drive-thru times and improve accuracy —  invest in technology, CNBC reports. SeeLevel HX says that drive-thru lanes that use digital confirmation boards delivered food to the customers three to four seconds faster on average in 2021.