Drive-Thrus are Getting Smarter

This article written by Joe Guszkowski with Restaurant Business.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Soon, that place is just as likely to be the nearest drive-thru as the corner bar. 

That’s because chains are working rapidly to make their drive-thrus smarter, with the help of technology that can do things like identify a customer and then offer them “the usual.” As the lane has become fast food’s premier channel during the pandemic, restaurants want to make sure they’re getting the most out of all those customers passing through.

“Drive-thru was always the balance between the speed of service and [personalization],” said Rakesh Patel, executive director with NCR Hospitality. “Especially in a contactless environment, how do you become more personable with your consumer?”

Dunkin’ is among the brands working to answer that question. The Canton, Mass.-based chain is testing drive-thrus that can recognize a loyalty member as soon as they pull up using geolocation within its mobile app. That triggers AI-powered digital boards that will greet them by name, display their loyalty points and recent orders, and ask if they want to add their customary donut along with that coffee. 

“If you happen to be a loyalty guest, and I know that you are there in front of the digital menu board, you have that moment of time where you have this one-to-one relationship with that menu board,” said Gagan Sinha, VP of IT with Dunkin’ Brands, during RB’sFSTEC Community last month.

That kind of personalization can produce upsells, and also help with throughput by easing the decision-making process for customers, Patel said.

“On digital channels such as app or web, you see people take a lot more time” compared to the drive-thru, he said. They browse the menu, make customizations and add items at their leisure, often resulting in a higher check. “Because you don’t feel the pressure of the line behind you, you go through that natural progress.”…

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