How does a quick service restaurant get hungry drivers through the drive-thru lane faster?

They digitize the entire process.

Yes, flashy digital outdoor menu boards that boast mouth-watering images (and video in some cases) is part of that digitization, but we’re not just talking digital menu boards here, we’re talking about digitizing the whole ball of wax.

What does that mean?

It means QSR’s that maximize the full potential that digital signage has to offer, do so by tracking customer analytics, offering return customers favorite options, and clearing overstock items with special offers or promotions.

Getting food into the hands of drive-thru customers has been the competitive edge for the QSR industry for decades. As it were, the biggest fast-food chains do 60% to 70 % of their business at the drive-thru. That’s a decent amount. So it’s crucial to reduce wait times to stay competitive.

But in order to stay competitive, these fast casuals have got to move customers through the outdoor lanes faster, right? But here’s an interesting tidbit:

The lines at the drive-thru are actually getting slower.


Yep. It’s true. With so many of us running around to meet work obligations and take care of our families, fast-food goers find QSR’s a convenient meal solution. But if so many of us rely on QSR to feed our families, how does it slow things down?

Because they show up at the drive-thru at the same time.

In 2012 the average wait time at a drive-thru window was 173 seconds.
In 2013 it was 181 seconds.
In 2014, it hit a record high of 203 seconds.

Thanks to digital signage options, all of this is changing.

Chris Riegel, the CEO of Stratacache, the provider of digital signage to McDonald’s and Dairy Queen, said in an interview with QSR Magazine that drive-thru choices are about velocity and targeted selection. If there are too many choices on a board, thus burying customer favorites among those choices, the customer can feel overwhelmed.

“Visual overload with a barrage of menu choices in the attempt to show everything on the menu can be overwhelming to the eyes and the brain, making selection decisions more challenging and increasing order times,” he said. “A cluttered menu board from 1991 does not serve the consumer or the brand well, both of which want easy selection and fast service.”

QSR’s on the edge of digital technology are utilizing digital signs in more ways than one. By capturing customer insights, these QSR’s are not only increasing sales, they’re bringing happy customers back again and again.

Here’s how you can do the same:

1. Use Environmental Data

When it rains, it pours.
And when people get wet, they want a solution to keep them dry.

Walmart figured this out, and makes sure they have what customers need at specific times, based on the weather. With a customer database that includes 145 million Americans, it’s not hard to track what customers buy the most of.

When the weather is hot, that might be air conditioners.
When the weather is cold, that might be winter coats or portable heaters.
By tracking purchases, the retail giant can get a closer look at how local weather deviations affect a customer’s buying pattern.

QSR’s are moving in the same direction.

In November of 2015, McDonald’s announced they would be using their digital menu boards to track local weather. When the weather is warm, the boards may offer McFlurries or shakes. When the snow begins to fly, heartier meals, coffee, and hot chocolate may be choices that steal the spotlight.

By offering consumers what they need at the moment they need it, it alleviates the search for the very thing that can satisfy their thirst or hunger. This is just one piece of the digital puzzle that keeps them coming back again and again.

2. Incorporate Patron Recognition

There is a bit of controversy about this particular method, but like it or not, it’s being used in some sectors, and is improving sales and customer service as a result.

Patron recognition is where businesses utilize cameras to capture images of their customers. It could be their face or their car license plate. Information can also be attained with a toll-road radio frequency identifier tag.

If a business wants to capture the face of their customer, they use facial recognition software.

In 2012, this technology was tested at a bar in San Francisco called SceneTap. Cameras installed in the establishment took photos of patrons, analyzing their facial characteristics as they entered the bar.

The images were not made public in any way, but were used to determine the age and gender of patrons so management could grab a snapshot of what kind of customer they were serving.

QSR’s that adopt this kind of software to capture license plates can store the customers’ order history in their database. The idea is that the next time the patron comes through the drive-thru, the license plate numbers can help speed up recurring drive-thru orders by suggesting meals the patron historically orders.

CMS digital signage software offers options that allow the user to capture customer history. Armed with this tool, the establishment is able to better manage inventory based on customer demand. This eliminates any overstock issues.

When QSR’s have too much product that doesn’t move, it affects their overhead. Unless they can push that product out the door with image enhancement…

3. Image Enhancement

What is image enhancement, you ask?

Image enhancement is a concept that offers consumers a particular product by enticing the consumer with tantalizing images or videos on a menu board.

By presenting images of special promotions, restaurants can push overstock. Images can also show consumers different upsell items. The right images at the right time can move stock, ultimately avoiding profit loss.

According to a study conducted by Capital Networks, advertising a menu item via digital signage actually boosts sales.

A prime example is the 50% increase Prime Burger has seen in sales since installing large-scale commercial digital menu boards. (No prime pun intended here.)

In select locations, the QSR used a combination of graphics and collected data, based on customer purchase history. The boards have more than doubled sales, a move that Sam Steele, CEO of Prime Burger, attributes to the imagery on the boards.

“The displays have really great image quality and bring our beautiful food imagery to life and do justice to our images,” he said. ““[We can] update the content on the displays in each of our stores. It’s a really painless process, and all we have to worry about is updating the artwork.” (Quote courtesy of: Digital Signage Today)

4. Consider Dayparting

Dayparting is a term used in the QSR sector that defines which meal items (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) sell best, and when.

Many fast-casuals target customers within one or two core dayparts.

McDonald’s, for example, decided in October of 2015  to target breakfast goers all day long. The decision proved to be more than successful. So much so, that the fast-food giant will be offering even more breakfast options in the fall of 2016. The initiative, which first started with the Egg McMuffin and other biscuit sandwiches, will now offer McGriddles, hotcakes, sausage burritos, oatmeal, and hashbrowns.

Thanks to collected data and digital imagery, McDonald’s can offer customers what they want at any time of the day.

5. Loyalty Rewards

Consumers looking to save a few bucks at the drive-thru will show up at QSR’s that offer loyalty programs.

In a report created by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), data compiled showed that quick service restaurants can quickly increase profits with loyalty programs.

“If you are a quick serve and don’t have [a loyalty program], you’re going to be at a competitive disadvantage,” says Dylan Bolden, a partner with BCG and co-author of the report. (Quote courtesy of: QSR Magazine)

Per the details of the report, statistics collected said almost 40 percent of restaurant loyalty programs increased the frequency of customer visits. Twenty-five percent of those visitors increased the amount of money they spent.

The research also showed that millennials expect a mutual relationship with brands, and that they are more likely to consider a loyalty program with those brands after they purchase something.

When a QSR can offer their customers yet another reason to dash through the drive-thru, they are sure to get return customers that appreciate not only the expediency, but the mutual relationship, too.


Each of these strategies moves customers through the drive-thru faster. If restaurants want to increases their bottom line, they have to be strategic with how they use digital signage to do this.

As the trend of digital menu boards in QSR’s increases across the globe, more and more fast casuals are looking to these kinds of approaches to increase sales and keep outdoor lines moving.

When a QSR can get an order out fast and accurately, loyalty is gained when the drive-thru experience is a positive one. Adding loyalty programs or other incentives also increase customer devotion.

Using environmental data allows fast-casuals and QSR’s to show up at the right time. Offering a cold patron a hearty bowl of chili with a hot cup of coffee shows that the establishment is not only reading their mind (because with big data, they are), but is also listening to the needs of their patrons.

In the end, taking advantage of digital signage technology will indeed move patrons through the drive-thru faster.

Now you know how the magic happens.

Do you implement any of these strategies now? How has it improved your business? What other strategies would you suggest?