Taking fast food to a new level


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With drive-through service now representing up to 70% of sales, the race is on to see which one of the US fast food giants can process customers through the service lane the fastest. Customer research has revealed that what customers value above all else are fast turnaround times, so the chains are working hard to provide it. But they seem to be coming up against a brick wall.

In an industry that has optimised service efficiencies a long time ago, increasing turnaround times is a problem that cannot be tackled easily. At present, the average turnaround time is 3 minutes. In theory, it should be possible to reduce this by half but that’s where the human factor is putting a spanner in the works.

Firstly, customers don’t always know precisely what they want, ask for guidance and change their minds midstream. Secondly, there are limits on how fast workers can take orders, assemble them and process payments without errors creeping in.

To quote Mike Watson, vice president of operations at Wendy’s International: “There is a very real danger that if you push service staff too hard, the whole thing becomes just messy.” Indeed, receiving the wrong order or a sandwich that that is so badly assembled that on unwrapping it the filling oozes out could make customers stay away in droves. Being given the wrong change is another possible cause for friction.

Fast food executives know that and are trying to find ways to speed up the process without affecting service levels. Some focus on improving the layout of menus. Instead of bulky text, they use a lot of pictures and improve the lighting above exterior menu boards. Others use call centres to accept orders and equip their operators’ computers with programs that have predictive text capabilities. In other words, the computer guesses customers’ orders.

How successful these steps will be remains to be seen, and we’ll certainly keep you informed.

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