7 Fast-Food Chains With the Best Drive-Thru Experience In 2024 (2024)

Fast-food drive-thrus are popular for their ease, convenience, and, of course, the speed at which customers receive their food. One record-breaking McDonald's drive-thru last year served an astounding 356 customers in one hourthat's about one vehicle every 10 seconds.

Of course, not every location is quite so efficient. Elsewhere, customers face long lines of cars, extended wait times, and incomplete or inaccurate orders. These kinds of frustrations can really make you think twice about pulling into your local drive-thru again.

Each year, the data analytics firm Intouch Insight conducts a study on the performance of fast-food drive-thrus, sending mystery shoppers on hundreds of visits to major national chains to evaluate their speed of service, order-filing accuracy, and other metrics. The latest study, conducted in partnership with QSR Magazine, found that fast-food companies are, on average, getting faster at serving drive-thru customers and getting their orders right more often, too.

That's the good news. The more nuanced takeaway is that some chains are doing a much better job than others. Fast-food giant McDonald's, for instance, ranked among the slowest chains in total drive-thru time and failed to take top honors in any category.

Many of the country's most popular fast-food companies are now taking bold action to improve the drive-thru experience. Several of them are testing new technologies, often involving artificial intelligence (A.I.), to make the ordering process more orderly and reduce customer wait times.

It's still not an exact science. McDonald's recently pulled the plug on its A.I.-based voice-ordering program at 100 test locations following some hilarious mistakes captured on social media. Even so, many other chains are moving forward with their own high-tech pilot programs.

Here's a look at the fast-food companies with the best-performing drive-thrus right now and what they're doing to improve the process.

Taco Bell

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Taco Bell made headlines in 2021 when the Mexican-inspired chain announced plans for Taco Bell Defy: a futuristic, drive-thru-only floating restaurant that sought to redefine the drive-thru experience. Rather than having a dining room where customers can sit and eat, this unique location would offer just four drive-thru lanes. Each lane gets its own specific purpose. There's a lane for delivery drivers, a lane for app orders, and two lanes for traditional drive-thru orders.

This innovative new location in Brooklyn Park, Minn., is now America's fastest drive-thru, with an average total time of just 176.2 seconds—that's less than three minutes from start to finish.

But Taco Bell's speedy performance isn't limited to the futuristic Minnesota restaurant alone. According to the latest drive-thru study, the home of the Crunchwrap Supreme had the fastest total drive-thru time out of all 10 major fast-food chains in 2023, averaging 278.84 seconds, or just under five minutes. Taco Bell also boasted the second-highest customer satisfaction score at 95% and ranked among the top chains for friendliness.

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Chick-fil-A

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Chick-fil-A may have the most popular drive-thru in the entire industry. America's leading chicken chain had the most cars in line on average of all 10 fast-food brands examined in the latest drive-thru study. And while it wasn't the fastest chain in terms of total drive-thru time overall in 2023, it did have the speediest time per vehicle, serving each car in 127.89 seconds on average.

Chick-fil-A also excels at order accuracy, customer satisfaction, and friendliness, earning the industry's highest marks in all three categories, the study showed.

The Georgia-based company is currently testing two new innovative drive-thru concepts in an attempt to make the experience even better for customers. One is a first-of-its-kind, drive-thru-only floating restaurant in Atlanta, with a massive kitchen located above four drive-thru lanes that can hold up to 75 cars. The other is a unique concept in New York City where no actual driving is required. Customers simply walk-up to retrieve their digital orders.

Chick-fil-A is also working to ease traffic congestion at its restaurants by installing a dedicated drive-thru lane for mobile orders at more than 300 locations nationwide.

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KFC

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KFC boasted the fastest total drive-thru time in 2022 and still remains one of the industry leaders in terms of speed. Customers spent an average of 303.95 seconds—just a smidge over five minutes—in the drive-thru lane in 2023, the study found. The venerable fried chicken chain also scored favorably in order accuracy and customer satisfaction, about 87% in both categories.

Parent company Yum Brands is integrating A.I. into its operations at many of its restaurant brands, including KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. Beyond just using voice-ordering technology at the drive-thru, the company is also testing an A.I.-powered "Super App" that can assist employees in following proper protocols. Rather than having to memorize best practices from a training manual, they can simply ask the app.In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Yum exec Joe Park described the Super App as an all-knowing "coach in your pocket" that can drive efficiencies not just at the drive-thru, but throughout the whole operation.

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Carl's Jr.

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When you place your drive-thru order at Carl's Jr., you can bet your food will be ready very quickly.The Tennessee-based burger chain had the fastest average wait time once an order was placed in 2023, clocking in at 37.79 seconds, and also the second-fastest total drive-thru time overall, averaging 303.74 seconds, or just over five minutes.

Last year, CKE Restaurants, the parent company of both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, partnered with tech company OpenCity to deploy an exclusive A.I.-based voice ordering system called "Tori" at select restaurants. In a statement, Phil Crawford, chief technology officer at CKE Restaurants, credited the new system with "enhancing the speed and accuracy of order processing, resulting in reduced wait times for customers and increased efficiency for our staff."

Meanwhile, Carl's Jr. franchisee StarGroup similarly linked up with tech firm Presto Automation last year to roll out its own A.I. voicebot system at 58 drive-thru locations.

Arby's

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If you pull into the drive-thru at Arby's, you will likely drive away happy. The meat-centric sandwich chain has ranked in the top 5 for customer satisfaction every year since 2020. In the latest drive-thru study, Arby's ranked third behind Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell with a 93% satisfaction score and also was rated among the top 5 friendliest chains overall.

Arby's had the fourth-fastest total drive-thru time overall in 2023, averaging 319.64 seconds. Customers also spent less time in line waiting to order, compared to other chains, just 49.79 seconds on average.

Dunkin'

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Making your morning coffee run to Dunkin' is a good bet for speedy service. The Massachusetts-based chain has ranked in the top 5 for fastest total drive-thru time for the past three years. In 2023, the average customer spent just 321.10 seconds, under five and a half minutes, in the drive-thru lane.

The popular coffee chain has equipped its locations with digital menu boards and offers quick pick-up in the drive-thru lane for orders made through its mobile app. In some locations, Dunkin' offers a drive-thru lane specifically for mobile orders.

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Wendy's

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After a woeful performance in 2022, Wendy's showed significant improvement in the latest drive-thru report. The Ohio-based chain boosted its order accuracy score from 79% to 87% and raised its customer satisfaction rating from 82% to 90% last year.

Customers are still waiting longer to order and pick up their food than they do elsewhere, however. Wendy's ranked 8th in wait time and 7th in total drive-thru time.

The chain is betting big on A.I. to improve both speed and accuracy. Last year, Wendy's expanded its partnership with Google Cloud in rolling out a custom-made generative A.I. voicebot system called Wendy's FreshAI, which creates personalized responses to customers. The company says the innovative system is getting great results, with one test site showing service times 22 seconds faster than the market average. In an email to the New York Times, the company noted that it's A.I. system can function without human help on 86% of orders.

Wendy's plans to expand the program to more locations and allow franchisees access to the technology as well.

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7 Fast-Food Chains With the Best Drive-Thru Experience In 2024 (2024)

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