5 Drive-Thru Ideas That Seemed to Predict How 2020 Has Unfolded

So far, 2020 has certainly been a year. How you define it from there really depends on if you’re a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person. For the restaurant industry, one word comes to mind: resilient. Not to describe the year, but all the courageous hard work of essential team members and restaurant operators on the forefront of serving customers during the pandemic.

Drive-thrus have become especially important for quick service restaurants this year, but who knew some of the most innovative thinking around contactless drive-thrus and using data to engage your employees is already several years old?

Below, you’ll find some drive-thru innovations along with technologies adapted for drive-thrus that occurred long before the pandemic, but seem right at home today.

1 – Drive-Thru Meal Kits and Vegetables, Anyone?


Source: Techlap

Back in 2016, videos from a design company called Dahir Insaat started appearing on YouTube with computer-generated renditions of a drive-thru supermarket in what looks eerily similar to the post-pandemic world we can all envision today.

Even though society did not have enough time to invest in the infrastructure needed for fully contactless supermarkets before the outbreak began, QSRs took the grocery shopping burden off many consumers by providing family-sized portions of their favorite meals during the first half of 2020.

Two years ago, Chick-fil-A tested drive-thru meal kits that gave Atlanta drive-thru customers fresh ingredients for various chicken dishes they could prepare at home. By April 2020, the QSR brand relaunched its Chicken Parmesan Meal Kit with fresh ingredients customers can prepare at home, this time announcing both drive-thru and front door delivery options.

2 – Work Smarter, Game Harder


Source: Techknow

In 2020, the way we collectively measured our success as a society changed. All of a sudden, minimizing daily coronavirus infection rates became a central point of focus, with related data guiding so many decisions – from restaurant closures to the nature of work itself.

For essential QSR workers, this meant taking on the burden of following new social distancing, personal protection, and disinfection procedures in addition to maintaining speed of service and other metrics they were always using to track performance.

With so much data affecting our daily lives, why not make at least some aspects of tracking and improving performance fun? Even before the outbreak, a drive-thru systems and analytics company called Techknow was helping QSR drive-thru teams do just that.

Techknow Challenge is a drive-thru technology solution that applies typical game-playing elements like scoreboards to solve real-world problems. For QSR drive-thru teams, this means getting to compare their speed of service times with fellow co-workers and stores to engage in some friendly competition. In addition to tracking hourly winners in three different categories, this system can cut drive-thru times by up to 51% per hour during a time when drive-thrus are more instrumental than ever in safely and efficiently providing food for busy families.

3 – Innovating the Selfie Stick

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Source: Hoch3Media via Unsplash

Remember using a selfie stick to photograph yourself amidst throngs of people (pre-coronavirus of course)? The first patent for a selfie stick originated in 1983, but it didn’t receive mainstream recognition until the growth of camera phones in the mid-2000s. With so many public events canceled, it is no surprise that the idea of a selfie stick took on a new meaning in 2020 – at least for the restaurant industry, and with a different name and purpose than the consumer versions.

Drive-Thru Payments

Behold the Drive-Thru Payment Extender, which is essentially a more sturdy and ergonomic “selfie stick” designed to hold a payment device rather than a smartphone so you can create a contactless payment experience for your drive-thru customers.

4 – QR Codes


Source: PAR

As we covered late last year, QR codes were already growing popular in the restaurant industry for a variety of uses before the pandemic, from expanding customers’ payment and checkout options to making it easier for them to leave reviews.

Like the selfie stick, this innovation predates the modern technology that ultimately made it popular, dating back to 1994. Even as consumers started to make more online purchases in the 2000s, QR codes did not really take off in the restaurant industry until QSRs and other restaurants started to develop their own online ordering solutions. McDonald’s has been scanning QR codes at the drive-thru since they came out with Mobile Order & Pay in 2017. Guests would drive up to the window and use their smartphones to pull up a QR code on the app, which crew members scan to apply a discount to the order.

Once most states temporarily closed dine-in service at restaurants early this year, QR codes started appearing in more drive-thrus and parking lots as a safer way for QSR customers to browse menus, order, and pay.

5 – Two-Way Video


Source: Global News

In late 2015, Starbucks started using two-way video in many of its drive-thrus, providing a more personalized face-to-face experience for guests and even making it easier for them to order by sign language. When the screens made it to Canada two years later, Starbucks reiterated its commitment to emphasize connecting with customers over self-service even in the efficiency-oriented world of drive-thrus.

Who knew back then that in just a few years, two-way video would become the preferred method of interaction for most aspects of public life? With technologies like Zoom now at the forefront of the American psyche, only time will tell if two-way video catches on as a larger trend in QSR drive-thrus.

See How PAR is Helping QSRs Win at the Drive-Thru

For more articles on drive-thru technology, check out our posts on improving drive-thru efficiency and how artificial intelligence is transforming the drive-thru.