The slowdown was despite the fact that drive-thrus lanes were less busy.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 03, 2019

It often feels like everything in our lives is designed to make the world move faster. An early example of this modern impatience is the drive-thru: Don't make me go into a restaurant; just shove the food into my car through a wall! Why, then, are drive-thrus actually getting slower? QSR Magazine has released its annual report on drive-thru speeds, and for 2019, the average time spent waiting on food has gone up about 20 seconds.

Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The quick-service restaurant publication's study once again looked at ten fast food chains—Arby's Burger King, Carl's Jr., Chick-fil-A, Dunkin', Hardee's, KFC, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Wendy's—and everyone but Carl's Jr. (which jumped from an average of 252.91 seconds to 240.51 seconds) failed to improve over the past year. Even previous slowpokes took extra time: Chick-fil-A, which finished next to last in 2018 at an average of 260.85 seconds per visit, dropped to dead last in 2019 with a significantly slower 322.98 seconds (aka, over five minutes)—nearly 40 seconds slower than the next slowest chain, McDonald's.

Granted, Chick-fil-A is a victim of its own success. In fact, QSR points out that some Chick-fil-A locations have resorted to sending employees outside with iPads to help process orders in continually-packed drive-thru lanes. "We are embracing technology to both provide a better experience for guests and to help take tasks off restaurant team members so they can devote more time to hospitality for our customers," Khalilah Cooper, director of service and hospitality for Chick-fil-A, was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Dunkin'—which topped the list with an average wait time of just 216.75 seconds—also said it was trying out new technology to keep drive-thru lines down. "At several of our Dunkin' NextGen locations, we feature an On-the-Go drive-thru lane, which allows guests who order ahead through the Dunkin' mobile app to bypass the regular drive-thru lane to pick up their orders and get on their way even faster than before," Scott Murphy, COO for Dunkin' U.S., told QSR Magazine.

Still, the overall average drive-thru wait time was about 4 minutes, 15 seconds. This despite the fact that QSR also found that the accuracy of orders dropped for the first time since 2016, and, in general, drive-thrus were less busy than they were last year. So what gives? QSR implies that current drive-thru strategies may only be able to do so much. Instead, a new technological wave may be coming: artificial intelligence. As we covered earlier this year, the fast food industry is eyeing the possibility of predicting what you want by tracking your license plate, which could theoretically keep moving things along. Maybe one day we can even get fast food chains to eat our meals for us—finally reaching the ultimate human goal: a zero-second wait time at the drive-thru.