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Driving Success: Why Top Quick-Service Restaurant Brands Use Upstream Ordering




Technology minimizes wait times at beverage drive thrus and beyond.


Drive thrus are crucial for the success of quick-service restaurants, contributing to 60–70 percent of overall revenue. As we look towards 2024 and beyond, savvy restaurants are leveraging technology to enhance the drive-thru experience significantly.


Although many drive-thru operations use timers to gauge performance, the emphasis on speed alone can lead to a narrow focus that overlooks the broader objective: serving as many customers as efficiently as possible within a given timeframe. Focusing solely on speed can result in staff behaviors that prioritize managing the timer over improving service and throughput.


Bottlenecks, particularly at order points, can significantly impede drive-thru efficiency. Typically, customers may take 30–45 seconds to place an order at fixed menuboards, causing delays even before timing begins. Brands like Swig are pioneering the adoption of advanced drive-thru technologies, such as upstream ordering, to prioritize throughput over mere speed. This approach does not aim to meet a standard time goal per car but ensures a steady flow of vehicles, potentially serving up to 120 cars per hour. Swig, using Crisp Restaurant Technology, has become known for operating one of the nation’s fastest beverage drive thrus. More than just facilitating rapid service, Swig enhances the customer experience with face-to-face interactions at the ordering point and streamlines the process by using Crisp’s technology to quickly access customers’ favorite drinks through a mobile POS based on loyalty information.


Comparable brands, including Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out, have also successfully implemented upstream ordering to achieve impressive throughput rates, serving between 60–180 cars per hour.


Dylan Roeder, CMO of Swig, shares his insights on the transformative impact of Crisp’s Upstream Ordering technology on their operations: “At Swig, our dedication to innovation and customer satisfaction is paramount. With Crisp’s Upstream Ordering, we’ve revolutionized our drive-thru experience, significantly enhancing our operational efficiency and throughput. This technology enables us to serve an impressive number of vehicles, far exceeding industry norms. It’s not just about speed; it’s about the quality of interaction and the overall customer experience. The ability to input and access loyalty information directly from our mobile POS means we can personalize service like never before, creating memorable moments for our customers. Crisp’s solution aligns perfectly with our mission to deliver exceptional service and ensures that every Swig drive thru is a fast, friendly, and personalized experience.”


Crisp’s advanced drive-thru technology plays a crucial role in minimizing wait times at the window by processing payments at the moment orders are placed. This innovative approach allows staff to interact more dynamically with customers by walking alongside their vehicles, thus promoting a continuous flow through the drive thru. By the time a customer reaches the pick-up window, the remaining step is simply to hand over the order. This method not only streamlines operations but also enriches the customer experience, enhances data collection for loyalty purposes, and fosters stronger customer relationships.


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