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Mobile apps drive drive-thru innovation

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Some of the customers in the drive-thru lane at a Meatheads restaurant never bother to order at the speaker, knowing their order was taken long before they drove up. Some have even already paid, and can drive off as soon as they are handed their food.

Mobile apps are helping to speed up service in the drive-thru as operators look for more ways technology can improve the experience.

“Even if a customer phones in an order, we tell them they can come through the drive-thru for food pickup at the window,” says Brian Landstrom, chief financial officer for the parent company of 17-unit Meatheads Burgers & Fries restaurants, which includes four with drive-thrus. “People are shocked when we tell them that. It’s a great customer service point.”

Meatheads did not begin with drive-thrus in mind, but the convenience was added for customers, and to retain to-go sales during inclement weather, Landstrom says.

“It can help drive revenue in those off periods, when the weather is bad and customers do not want to get out of their car, or you have a mom with kids coming from practice or school and she doesn’t want to drag three kids out of the car to come in to pick up a to-go order,” he says.

Future developments for drive-thrus may be beacons, radio frequency identification tags or GPS locators that would allow consumers who have already placed an order and paid for it—online or via a mobile app—to simply drive up to a window, pick up their order and drive off without having to interact with anyone.

“We’ve seen the Amazon Go stores where you walk in, check out items automatically and walk out,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. “There’s no reason to think this will not happen for drive-thru.” 

Google is testing a Hands Free app that enables customers to pay for items without handing a clerk a credit card or cash, or even their phone to scan. The app is in test with retailers in Northern California, including McDonald’s and Papa John’s.

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