Pandemic conditions inspired a surge of traffic to drive thru lanes as restaurants resumed operations with limited on-premises dining rooms. The trend had staying power even as COVID concerns subsided. Consumers, it turns out, have an appetite for drive thru dining. No longer a relic of a bygone era, brands are investing considerable time and resources into profitable improvements for the drive thru infrastructure at their restaurants.
Fast casual brand PDQ (which stands for People Dedicated to Quality), has long been a player in the drive thru space. As the chain’s name suggests, it is also not a brand that settles for “satisfactory.” Constantly on the hunt for areas of improvement in restaurant operations, the fast casual commits to routine checks and ongoing strategies to improve efficiency.
More than 50% of PDQ’s customers come through drive thru. When the brand’s Chief Operating Officer Eric Knott asks the question, “How can I make my restaurant more efficient?” there’s no question that drive thru will be a central focus.
“We've seen drive thru business pretty much quadruple in the last two years,” says Knott. “Speed is obviously important as you can only get so many cars through in an hour.”
With a goal of increased speed and efficiency (and therefore, profitability), Knott and his team pinpointed three areas to improve restaurant operations.
When Knott joined the PDQ leadership team, the chain’s restaurants were operating on a legacy point of sale (POS) system.
“The first thing was getting over to Revel’s cloud-based platform, the ability to go outside with remote order takers, we actually have three to four devices that we use just in drive thru,” says Knott. “For me, it's key to get that information to the kitchen. So that way, we can keep up and you're not sitting there waiting for us. And we can buy upwards of two to three minutes depending on how long that line is, and how many people are out there taking the order. So I think that's probably number one.”
Not only does cloud architecture behind PDQ’s point of sale platform allow for line busting with mobile order takers in the drive thru lane, it also enables seamless integration with other best-of-breed technologies for solutions like loyalty, back office management, and more.
Knott and his team have the flexibility they need to leverage leaders in multiple areas of restaurant technology to ensure they deliver on their namesake—People Dedicated to Quality.
In the way of restaurant improvement ideas, perhaps nothing fuels progress quite like some healthy competition. At PDQ, that entails pitting store against store to drive pride and engagement with teams at each location.
“Number two is just engaging in competitions,” says Knott. “We run contests trying to engage each operator, and I think that’s probably the most important piece—to have the operator engaged and wanting to compete and a level of competitiveness.”
Leading practices for restaurant improvement shows clearly in the competition outcomes. The winners set standards for other operators to emulate, and they stay engaged throughout the entire process of uncovering those best practices.
PDQ’s operations team devoted lots of time in the field benchmarking and researching their entire order process. The intention was to uncover hang ups in order flows and choke points really dragging down total speed of delivery. “We got a group together including cashiers, managers, and executive level team members and really started digging in and listening to the order taking process,” Knott says. “We were able to care out around eight seconds per meal from the order taking process.”
On the surface, eight seconds may sound insignificant. However, consider a drive thru line during the lunch rush. When you’re looking at 15 cars of hungry guests waiting in a queue, eight seconds multiplies quickly.
Thanks to their research findings, the PDQ team uncovered insights into how to improve restaurant menu items for maximum efficiency.
“Guests didn’t see any type of friction,” says Knott. The new-and-improved order flow allows PDQ employees to quickly take orders in a way that doesn’t disrupt a customer’s natural thought process. They are able to input information they way their guests want their orders to be taken without interruptions or complex key-ins on Revel’s iPad-based platform.
One great element of PDQ’s approach to improve restaurant efficiency is its simplicity—each of their team’s three key areas of focus are replicable.
If you are exploring avenues for increasing efficiency for your business, whether drive thru is a component or not, consider cloud technology, friendly competition, and order taking assessment.
For a more detailed recap of PDQ’s three-pronged approach according to Knott, check out this 2-minute video clip from his panel response in the Driving Profits at the Drive Thru session at the 2023 Fast Casual Executive Summit.