Freddy’s Frozen Custard is trying to find ways to get faster

The fast-casual chain said it plans to expand a test of deploying workers with tablets to its drive-thrus to take orders and payments as it looks to move cars through the line more quickly.
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Photo: Shutterstock

Fast-growing fast casual Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers is looking for ways to become even faster.

The Wichita, Kan.-based chain has been testing having tablet-toting workers take orders and payments in the drive-thru lane to speed customers’ time in the line. So far, the test is in just seven locations, CFO Bill Valentas said, but it is going well.

“It’s been very positive,” Valentas said, adding that Freddy’s plans to roll the operational model out in more restaurants early next year after the chain upgrades its POS system.

The goal is to keep a car moving through the line every 30 seconds. For a seven-car line, that equals three minutes and 30 seconds to turn over the full queue. Right now, Freddy’s averages about five-and-a-half minutes to get through the drive-thru line, he said.

“We started doing it because COVID has changed our business model a little bit,” he said, noting that pre-pandemic, the majority of Freddy’s diners went inside the restaurant to place orders. Today, about 60% of customers are going through the chain’s drive-thrus.

It’s more than just speed that motivated Freddy’s to try this approach, one that is used by Chick-fil-A and others.

“Now that we have guests more often than not going through the drive-thru, we wanted to provide that same hospitality you get when you come inside and have that conversation with a person and not through a box,” Valentas said.

Deploying workers with tablets outside has been challenging, however. There have been technical issues with POS reception far from the restaurant. And then there are the labor issues.

For a single drive-thru location, a worker can be moved from inside the unit. A double drive-thru requires more juggling.

“In a lot of cases it does require an extra body to do it right,” he said. “You want to have your best and brightest out there. It is a challenge with the labor condition as it is, but we’ll keep fighting through that because we think it’s important for the hospitality.”

Freddy’s, which has 412 locations, is also adding new kitchen equipment to speed throughput. It recently started using a new burger press that allows multiple patties to be formed at the same time to help ensure the chain’s signature burger with a “crisper edge and warm, steamy middle,” he said.

Even as COVID rates decline in some parts of the country and dining rooms get back into full swing, Freddy’s is still seeing strong demand for its drive-thrus, he said.

“What happened during COVID is we were able to get trial through the drive-thru of new guests,” Valentas said. “And they continue to return through the drive-thru, and we’re great with that.”

In June, the chain debuted a new store design—its first without a dining room. The prototype features a double drive-thru and walk-up ordering station.

In March, Freddy’s was acquired by private equity firm Thompson Street Capital Partners.

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