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QSRs are Sizzling Despite the Pandemic – Tips to Deliver When it Matters Most

April 23, 2021  - RestaurantCOVID19 SMB Resources
image of phone with online food ordering menu

In March of 2020, restaurant sales plummeted after in-person dining was severely restricted. Fast forward a few weeks, and a new trend emerged illustrated by long drive-thru lines wrapped around fast-food locations, drive-thru lanes became the superstar, helping fast-food chains' sales rebound faster than those of full-service restaurants. In 2020, drive-thru visits grew by 27% in the third quarter and represented 44% of off-premises orders across the restaurant industry, according to the NPD Group. The drive-thru has evolved into the centerpiece of the fast-food industry. QSR businesses have been eager and wise to employ strategies that leverage this advantage as consumers flock to drive-thru lanes.

Capitalize on Consumer Craving for Convenience

woman paying with contactless scanner

Higher volume and larger orders slowed down average drive-thru times by almost 30 seconds according to a 2020 study conducted from June through August using secret shoppers. The study also revealed that digital menu boards used by 23% of locations resulted in faster drive-thru times shaving off an average of over 12 seconds.  The pandemic accelerated a need for expanded convenience product and service offerings, and chains are focusing resources on trimming time to fill orders and keeping the drive thru line moving.

As more restaurants begin to rely on this newly dubbed superstar for most of their revenue, it's critical they continue to focus on reducing wait time by investing in technology such as digital menu boards, mobile applications, and online ordering options.

"Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed, and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them.   Fast casual and traditional quick service chains have already announced expansion plans for their drive-thru operations. Drive-thru and other off-premises operations will be a major part of the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery and future."  David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor

Indulge in the 3 Ds: Drive-thru, Digital Ordering, & Delivery Options

Business owners are taking steps to adapt their operations to overcome pandemic-related restrictions and meet increased demand by expanding drive-thru capabilities and curbside services, offering online and mobile app ordering, and delivery services. Higher volume and larger orders have prompted QSRs to add additional drive-thru lanes, some designated for online or app orders, and establish aggressive goals, such as fulfilling orders in under a minute. Several fast-food chains are ramping up investments to make their drive-thru lanes more efficient by adding digital screens with predictive selling technology, integrating loyalty programs, contactless payment options, and drive-thru only locations.  Many fast-casual restaurants are adding their first drive-thru lanes.

3 Tips to Help QSR Businesses Deliver When it Matters Most:

Optimize Digital Channels:

  • Launch an app if you don't already have one. This will allow you to track customer spending, preferences and data that can be used in the future to advertise to your target customers and improve customer retention.
  • Leverage social media channels to reach more customers, advertise to your target customers, and showcase new offerings. Consider starting a Facebook group or some type of digital community that will help bond customers to each other and your brand.
  • Partner with 3rd party ordering and/or delivery platforms to increase your customer reach by gaining access to customers outside of your delivery radius.

Offer Contactless Options:

  • Contactless payments allow customers to securely purchase their orders and avoid direct contact with a person. This payment type can be made online, or by placing a credit or debit card near the card reader (touch free).
  • Contactless pick-up and delivery include curbside and in-store pick-up where food is ordered online or through an app, and then packaged and ready when the customer arrives at the restaurant.
  • Online ordering either through your website or a third-party provider allows customers to place and pay for an order online with no direct contact.
picture of sign says open for drive thru pick up and mobile ordering

Use Predictive Selling Technology

  • Predictive selling provides insight to forecast what and when a customer will buy based on past purchase decisions. Combined with technology, predictive selling allows businesses to analyze data patterns to forecast future behavior.
  • For the QSR industry, predictive selling is an excellent way to optimize operations because it can provide a framework for how to market and sell to customers in the most cost-effective and efficient manner.

Getting food quickly and safely is a “new normal” brought on by the pandemic. Having a long-term strategy that incorporates technology to meet customer expectations can help almost any QSR.


As vaccine distribution ramps up across the United States, the popularity of QSR convenience appears to have staying power.  At Ascentium Capital, we understand that QSR owners are busy entrepreneurs with overflowing plates keeping their business fresh, viable and profitable. Our restaurant financing options can help businesses integrate technology and enhancements to capitalize on growth opportunities.

To get started, simply fill out this quick form and a finance manager will contact you to discuss your business financing needs. Financing based on credit approval.

The mention of or links to third-party information, services, products, or providers does not imply endorsement or support by Ascentium Capital. Individual research should be done before use of any product, process or service mentioned.
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