How to Answer the Drive-Thru

14 Oct

One of the top tips I gave for increasing speed of service is to streamline words, phrases, and questions at the drive-thru.  This caused quite a bit of controversy in the comment section, so I decided to clarify a bit.

Let’s take a peek at an employee at my last restaurant, who is a great example of what not to do.  I will present a typical order from her, followed by a critique:

Customer: I’d like a Whopper, —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Sure.  And I’d —

Order Taker: Is that a meal?

Customer: . . .  Uh, yeah.

Order Taker: What would you like to drink with that?

Customer: . . . Um . . . I’d like . . . a . . . Coke, and —

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: The drink?

Order Taker: No, the meal.

Customer: Oh. . . Uh, I guess . . . uh, Medium.  Uh. . .

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I’d like . . . uh. . . a. . . Chicken Sandwich —

Order Taker: Original or Tendercrisp?

Customer: Which one is on the long bun?

Order Taker: The Original.

Customer: Original —

Order Taker: Would you like cheese on that?

Customer: Uh, sure, I guess. . .

Order Taker: Would that be the meal?

Customer: Well, uh, . . . sure —

Order Taker: What kind of drink?

Customer: Uh, . . . uh . . . Maybe . . . Diet Coke?

Order Taker: Small, Medium, or Large?

Customer: (quietly) Small, Medium or Large?

Friend: . . . (almost inaudible) Not sure . . . Large!

Customer: (loud again) Large.  And —

Order Taker: Is that it?

Customer: No, I got more comin’ . . .

I’m not impressed, and I’m annoyed.  I would have had this order taken already, in its entirety.

How could this possibly go quicker?  There are two critiques I have, in addition to politeness.  “Is that it?” is not a proper way to attempt to close an order.  It’s a bit rude and off-putting.  Always say, “Will that be all for you, today?”  Or something like it.  Note also the number of “–“‘s that end the customer’s side of the conversation.  This is where our order taker has cut the customer off to ask a question.  Also very rude.

The critiques that will assist speed of service, and thus the body of this post, are that she is overselling and over-clarifying.

We are not conducting a police interrogation at the drive-thru.  I try to keep it fast and conversational.  That might mean holding on to some questions for the end, or until the customer takes a breath.  Or it might mean not asking certain questions at all.  Let the situation be your guide — in general, if I can do without a question, I won’t ask it.

Now let’s talk about suggestive selling.  It’s not that our order taker here is wrong for doing it.  I’m glad she did!  But, it should be limited to one item or upgrade per order.

I realize that Coca-Cola has promotions and mystery shoppers out and about occasionally to “catch” workers who correctly upgrade Value Meals.  I also realize that if the mystery shopper orders two Value Meals, one  after the other, and your order taker only offers the upgrade to one, that you lose the mystery shop.  Which means that — sorry customers who are reading this — Value Meals are the exception.  Always ask to upgrade Value Meals, even if the customer is ordering their 150th.

Focusing on the non-value meal items, I generally only ask a customer to upgrade their first sandwich to a Value Meal unless there is some compelling reason to ask again.  Whatever they say to that first question, they are now “on notice” — they are aware that the Value Meal option exists.  Which means if they want one, they will ask for one.

I am probably one of the few managers to ever say this, but I almost never ask if the customer wants to add cheese to a sandwich.  I figure they know we will put it on the sandwich for them, and if they like cheese they will ask for cheese.  And, the pictures of the sandwiches on fast food menu boards are arranged to show all of the ingredients, so if the customer is unsure if a particular item is present they can ask or refer to the picture.  If they don’t see cheese, trust me — they will ask.

There is only one time I specifically ask about cheese.  A good drive-thru order taker always finds a way to suggestive sell.  Offering the meal upgrade for sandwiches, “completing the triangle” (entree/side/drink) by asking for the missing corner, or offering a drink or dessert are the main ways to suggestive sell.  Occasionally, however, I might use cheese on an otherwise plain sandwich to make my suggestive sell instead of one of the other things I mentioned.  That works well if the customer has somehow made it clear that they are on a budget or they already have something to drink.

The second problem with the example above is the overuse of clarifying questions.  I always tell my order takers to have a set of default assumptions so that they can limit the number of clarifying questions that they need to ask.

The case-in-point is the Chicken Sandwich.  Since this example takes place at Burger King, I will need to make a clarification for non-BK employees.  BK has three basic types of chicken sandwiches.  The Original Chicken is processed and comes on a sub bun.  The Tendercrisp is a whole breast fillet with seasoned breading and comes on a corn-dusted sandwich bun.  The Tendergrill comes also on a corn-dusted sandwich bun and is a whole breast fillet, but has no breading and is grilled rather than fried.

If a BK customer orders a “Chicken Sandwich” without qualifiers, the default order taker assumption is the Original Chicken sandwich.  Ninety-nine percent of people order the Original, and the handful of Tendercrisp/Tendergrill customers specify their preference.

A more universal application of this same principle is the drink or the order of french fries.  Often, customers will say “I’d like some fries” or “I’ll take a Coke.”  Obviously, both menu items come in varying sizes.  Rather than ask the customer each time he orders a french fry about the size (believe me, you will have to ask each time), I simply assume that the customer wants a medium.

This is handy, but it does frequently confuse people who just order fries.  A lot of times, the ones who just order fries are after the cheapest size (especially the teenagers or the seniors).  Generally, I still give them the medium size.  Reason: they need to learn that if they don’t specify, it is going to cost them a lot of money.

You might think that this causes a lot of fights.  It actually doesn’t — in almost 20 years in fast food I only had one major altercation over it, and that was with a senior citizen who tried to quote the operations manual at me, where it supposedly I “must” ask the customer what size of fry or drink if it is not specified.  Little did she know that the operations manual is where I got this principle of default assumptions in the first place!

And that’s how to answer drive-thru.  Personally, I think that customers appreciate my attempt to minimize the barrage of questions, and it always makes things go faster.


5 Responses to “How to Answer the Drive-Thru”

  1. Jade October 20, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    You can suggest the following when customers order either on Drive Through or at the window.
    Customer: I’d like a whopper
    YOu: Would like that in a meal?
    Customer: Yes.
    YOu; Coke for your drink?
    Customer: Yes
    If you think the customer stopped for a short pause. Is your order on the screen correct? ( for DT orders only).
    You could also suggest for BBQ sauce on chicken tenders, or upsell an item like a chocolate ice cream sundae pie or something that is missing from the order. You can upsell 1 size larger than the original size of the meal, drinks, fries or onion rings. This approach is more quicker because most of the time – you will get quicker responses from customers.

  2. Alex March 5, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    I disagree with the assumption part. You know what they say about assuming. An easier way is to ask “Would you like that to be a medium?” It saves time, trust me. I’ve had employees assume medium only to have the customer change it at the window, or worse ask for the manager and I had to go deal with the complaint. It gets even worse when they make it to the second window realize they were charged for a medium and wanted a small and now want a refund. That way you get the correct size when they order, don’t have to worry about a complaint, and things can move quicker through the drive thru. This business isn’t about teaching customers a lesson, it’s about giving them what they want at the quickest speed possible. You might take a few seconds to ask and save a minute later.

    • Cory Tucholski March 6, 2014 at 3:11 am #

      I addressed your objection within the body of the post — at BK, the operations manual stated that you are to assume a medium if the customer doesn’t specify. That didn’t come from me — that came from corporate.

      Since this post, there’s been a couple of changes in fast food. Specifically, sizes are now much larger. All the sizes shifted one over, and even though it’s been almost 3 years people are still confused by this.

      This is where the magic of closed-ended questions comes in to play. Now, when someone specifies a fry or a drink without a size, I will ask, “Is a small okay?” Most people say yes, or correct me (medium or large).

      And we’re back in business!

      • Donald August 12, 2015 at 12:50 am #

        I’m a shift supervisor at Burger King and I use the same approach when it comes to customers ordering a fry or drink that isn’t within a combo meal. I’ll ring it up as a small and when I verify their order, I’ll actually specify the size that I rang up, and they’ll either tell me that it’s right or tell me the size that they prefer.

  3. Colby October 20, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    best response…Sure will that be a Large? Customer will then immediately let you know what size.

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