August 24, 2023
Lauren Platero

Drive Thru Restaurants: The Complete Guide

Drive thru restaurants dominate almost every market. Even though the restaurant industry comprises many business models, fast food restaurants are by far the most popular. Not only are they able to maintain a high restaurant profit margin, but they’re easy on everyone’s wallets. 

Other obvious advantages of drive thru restaurants are their speed and efficiency. A quick service restaurant can serve many customers in a short period of time, making it easy to maximize revenue. Plus, it’s a sure way to boost customer service

This article will serve as a guide for all topics relevant to drive thru restaurants. By the end, you’ll know about the most important aspects of the fast food industry. Now, let’s begin.

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Drive Thru Restaurants: Definition 

Drive thru restaurants are casual dining establishments where customers can order food and drinks right from their vehicle. Customers can view the menu types on digital boards, right up until they’re at the speaker. Then, a two-way speaker system allows the driver to talk to an employee. It’s during this time they relay their order. 

Shortly after, the driver will pull up to a window where numerous payment processing methods are available. And last but not least, the customer will retrieve their food and be on their merry way. 

Drive thru restaurants may also have dine-in options. After all, they are brick and mortar eateries. However, some may take on the ghost kitchen business model to cut the labor cost

A Brief History of Drive Thru Restaurants

Drive thru restaurants have been an evolving concept for an entire century. From food trends to tech solutions there are many contributing factors towards its impact on society. 

During the 1920s, A&W Root Beer introduced the concept of enjoying beverages in the car. Customers were able to order soda, and servers would bring it out to them. It wasn't until three decades later in the 1950s when drive thru restaurants began booming in popularity.  

Major chains at the time like In-N-Out and McDonald's began thriving thanks to drive thru service. With two-way speakers and fast turnaround times, it quickly became the most convenient way to dine. 

The fast food space didn't see more advanced drive thru solutions until the 1970s. Intercoms, speakers, and windows were becoming much more innovative during this era. These upgrades were simplifying restaurant operations, which in turn was boosting the customer experience. Within just a decade, these advancements made drive thru restaurants much more popular by the 1980s. 

Since the 1990s, digital menu boards, restaurant payment technology, and order accuracy measures have seen drastic improvements. It was also during this period when coffee shop brands jumped on the drive thru bandwagon. 

Nowadays, drive thru restaurants benefit from restaurant technology. Solutions like online ordering apps, GPS tracking, and contactless payments are a dime a dozen. They can even employ of-premise ordering solutions with partners like Revolution Ordering. Want to learn more about how we can help? Book a demo today or review our many resources!

The Most Popular Drive Thru Restaurants

Chances are, it would be challenging to find a geographic area that doesn’t have at least a couple of drive thru restaurants. They’re a popular hospitality franchise option for how much potential there is to operate one. From low prices to quick service, they’re a go-to option for many consumers, too. Some of which even frequent them on a regular basis. 

The list below comprises the most popular drive thru restaurants. Beside each franchise name is the number of units the brand operates worldwide. You might be shocked by some of these numbers–check them out:

  1. McDonald’s: 40,200
  2. Starbucks: 35,700
  3. KFC: 25,000
  4. Burger King: 18,700
  5. Dunkin’: 13,200
  6. Taco Bell: 8,200
  7. Wendy’s: 7,095
  8. Arby’s: 3,500
  9. Chick-fil-A: 2,700
  10. Culver’s: 900 

There are various reasons why the restaurant brands above have become so well-known over the years. For one, restaurants like Chick-fil-A and Culver’s have a reputation for their extremely friendly customer service. Meanwhile, Starbucks and Dunkin’ are right on target with seasonal drinks. Then, you have McDonald’s and Burger King that don’t let an area go without opening at least one or two units.

The Benefits of Drive Thru Restaurants

There are numerous benefits of fast food restaurants with a drive thru. See below for several of the most ideal perks such business models offer to both the customers and the business:

  1. The menu options are usually set at a reasonable price. 
  2. There are many drive thru-friendly restaurant marketing strategies.
  3. The cost to open a quick service restaurant with a drive thru is much less than traditional eateries. 
  4. Drive thru restaurants can maximize profits, as they can serve customers who dine-in and who drive up to the window. 
  5. They offer a quick and simple selection of food and beverages to consumers, especially for those on the go. 
  6. The cost of labor isn’t as difficult to manage as it is in other types of restaurants. 
  7. Contact-free service is sanitary, and was even ideal during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  8. Less overhead, and therefore, fewer operating and overhead expenses
  9. Drive thru restaurant staff are able to multitask due to simpler operations. 
  10. Customers can customize their orders, mixing and matching different items to create their meal. 

Cost to Open Drive Thru Restaurants

Depending on the restaurant equipment and features you implement, drive thru restaurants can be a minimum of $20,000 to launch. In some cases, startup costs are nearing six figures. And it’s certainly safe to say that a fully automated fast food restaurant would cost the most. 

In fact, that’s why so many entrepreneurs opt for franchising one or more units. Enterprise restaurants are much less expensive than starting a restaurant business from scratch. Plus, there is a franchise manual that should come with the agreement. This document will entail everything you need, from fast food marketing strategies to policies.

Frequently Asked Questions About Drive Through Restaurants

Drive thru restaurants have quite an extensive history. Their impact on the restaurant industry is immense, as there are many contributing factors. Want a brief summary of fun facts and statistics about common drive thru restaurants? If so, you’re in the right place–check out the FAQ section below. 

Is It Drive-Thru or Drive-Through?

According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, the correct spelling is "drive-through." However, the spelling "drive-thru" is an informal version of the same term. Think of it similarly to slang and industry lingo.

Which Fast Food Restaurant Invented the Drive-Thru?

In-N-Out Burger was the fast food restaurant to originally introduce the drive-thru. In 1948, Harry Snyder used a two-way speaker for the first-ever drive-thru restaurant in California. Little did the industry know at the time that this would be the beginning of the fast food craze.

Which Fast Food Restaurant Has the Fastest Drive-Thru Time?

After conducting a study on how fast people receive their orders in the drive-thru line, KFC came out as the fastest-moving restaurant. Customers wait just around five minutes for their food and drinks. Or more specifically, they wait just around 300 seconds.

Which Fast Food Restaurant Has the Slowest Drive-Thru Line?

Despite their efforts to speed up turnaround times, Chick-fil-A has the slowest drive-thru line. On average, customers have to wait over five and a half minutes. These times are most likely due to their workers handling orders outside amidst the drive-thru lines.

What Is the Most Popular Fast Food Restaurant?

The most popular fast food restaurant of all time is McDonald’s. The restaurant franchise operates in 118 countries and has over 13,000 locations in the United States alone. In addition to these units, there are roughly 40,000 locations spanning the globe. And that's how they're able to serve nearly tens of millions of people each day!

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Drive Profits Via Drive Thru Restaurants

Drive thru restaurants certainly make up a complex sector of the restaurant space for such simple business models. However, that’s due to the high volume of them. Plus, they’re massive sources of revenue. Oh, and don’t forget about the convenience they provide consumers.