The weird impact COVID-19 is having on the fast-food industry

Fast-food? More like slow service in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

As Americans want comfort food to keep them warm during the challenging pandemic, drive-thru times across America’s famed fast-food chains have slowed down.

With more consumer ditching visits inside their favorite fast-food joint in order to order from the comfort of their cars, the average drive-thru time has increased by nearly 30 seconds across 10 restaurant chains, SeeLevel HX reports.

The annual QSR drive-thru study revealed the dining habits of Americans at some of the country’s favorite fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to show how the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt both customer experience and restaurants in terms of revenue.

Slower drive-thru times — up 29.8 seconds compared to 2019 — have hurt franchises despite the increase in demand. The extra wait time has cost brands around $64 million in lost revenue, according to the study, which analyzed 10 major fast-food brands on 1,490 drive-thru visits. Despite the slower drive-thru times, pick up times — from when the order was placed to pick-up — were fast compared to last year. The average service time for pick-up was 16.9 seconds faster at 238 seconds, which is speedier than 255 seconds in 2019.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered in-person dining experiences or limited occupancy in order to promote social distancing measures, a shockingly high percentage said that these safety measures aren’t being advertised while on the drive-thru line. Eighty-eight percent of drive-thru visited did not have proper signage posted promoting safety standards such as masks, gloves, or social distancing practices, according to the survey.

However, the good news is more than half of drive-thrus — 59% — had plastic barriers installed separating customers from employees at the window, which surely creates a better and safer exchange between consumer and product.

Only three fast-food chains — KFC, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell — recorded faster service times in the drive-thru compared to 2019. While the average time was 356.8 seconds, KFC shaved nearly a minute off the average with a time of 283.3 seconds. Taco Bell was the second fast at 310.2 seconds, while McDonald’s ranked sixth at 349.3 seconds.

Chick-fil-A remained the slowest in drive-thur times for the second year in a row, according to the study.

One of the revelations of the study is the impact of digital menuboards, which reduced total times for the first time, according to the study.

“The pandemic is continuing to have a massive impact on QSRs from a spike in traffic and stricter safety standards and protocols to a substantial increase in staffing turnover and training, so I’m not surprised to see a dip in speed of service,” SeeLevel HX CEO Lisa van Kesteren said in a press release. “Still, every second has a substantial impact on the bottom line. And as more restaurants rely on the drive-thru for the majority of their revenue during this pandemic, and likely long term, it’s never been more critical to focus on improving wait time by investing in technology like menuboards and mobile to stay competitive.”