Excellent piece in the New York Times about the rise of the drive-through. Here's how it frames the trend:
"Getting a meal through a car window began to define the nation’s food culture the moment the founders of In-N-Out Burger set up a two-way speaker in 1948. But the drive-through has never been as integral to how America eats as it is now.
"The pandemic sent people into the comforting isolation of their cars to get tested for Covid, celebrate birthdays and even vote. And now, it seems, they don’t want to get out. At least to eat.
Drive-through traffic rose 30 percent from 2019 to 2022, according to a report from the food service research firm Technomic. Meanwhile, the number of people eating inside fast-food restaurants in the first half of 2023 fell by 47 percent from the same period in 2019. Drive-throughs now account for two-thirds of all fast-food purchases, according to a September report by Revenue Management Solutions.
"As momentum builds, the $113 billion fast-food industry is leaning in. Popeyes executives are cutting the size of dining rooms in half. Taco Bell is experimenting with eliminating them altogether in favor of more car lanes. Chick-fil-A plans to open a two-story, four-lane drive-through in Atlanta next year that can handle 75 cars at a time and delivers food from the kitchen on a conveyor belt.
"Restaurants are tailoring mobile menus to individual customers, based on their past purchases. Some are experimenting with artificial intelligence that can take orders in either Spanish or English, depending on the first words out of a guest’s mouth.
Why the new wave of drive-through love? Because the experience has become faster and smoother, industry executives say. The pandemic turbocharged upgrades that were already underway, including better mobile ordering, streamlined kitchens and smarter traffic management.
"Others point to cultural shifts like the growing popularity of coffee shop drive-throughs among Generation Z and young millennials, and even pet ownership, which skyrocketed during the pandemic."
- KC's View:
It would have been easy for a lot of fast feeders to simply continue building drive-throughs the same old way. Easy, but disastrous - because it would have been put of touch with how customers want to buy their food.
I think it is fascinating to watch these companies re-engineer their businesses to match what consumers want, and adopt new technologies like AI so they can reduce friction wherever possible.