How Leading Brands are Putting Drive-thru Profits in the Fast Lane

When the pandemic struck, the drive-thru turned out to be a game-changer (if not a goldmine). When it comes to the drive-thru, our enterprise ROI study reveals what works.

The pandemic prompted almost every restaurant to make some kind of pivot in how it sold to, and served  customers. Those that had drive-thrus optimized them to get the most throughput. Those that didn’t have drive-thrus quickly set up to-go service whether it looked like drive-in / car-hop type service, or curbside to-go, or some combination. Still others pressed other off-premises channels into service by accelerating the rollout of online / mobile ordering or heavily promoting and advertising this channel to customers.

After living through years of change, it’s clear that restaurants, and how we experience them, are on the path to going back to what we knew before, but with enhancements. Always a huge revenue source, drive-thrus have become even more of a coveted, and very valuable, asset. Study after study seems to indicate that even after guests return to on-premises dining, they will still want the off-premises convenience they experienced during the pandemic. 

Enterprise restaurants that have invested in modernizing their drive-thrus are doing better than their counterparts that have not. Cutting-edge brands investing in drive-thru are engaging with guests in new ways, and supersizing profits.

Xenial conducted an extensive study of leading enterprise QSRs that have invested in drive-thru modernization projects. We summarize some of the details and findings here. And of course, you are welcome to download the full study.

Our Drive-thru Modernization ROI Study: Summary of Data

  • QSRs that invest in the drive-thru reap better profits
  • Typical return on investment: 9 to 12 months
  • Slashed speed of service by 12 seconds
  • Boosted overall sales by 2.5%
  • Increased LTO sales by 2%
  • Bumped up combo meal sales 2%
  • Based on 7,000 QSRs nationwide


Two main technologies were at the core of the improvements at brands we studied:

  • Drive-thru timer systems
  • Digital menu boards 

In addition, the digital menu board experience is powered by dynamic content and intelligent suggestive selling based on a number of data feeds and the brand’s business rules.

Who We Studied

Our largest client has 7,500 locations; some of our smaller clients own/operate between 100 and 3,600 locations.

For the purpose of this study, we used on premises drive-thru POS transactions as the baseline. We excluded other types of orders such as mobile app, third party pickup/delivery, and online orders.

Interesting Facts

  • 63% of customers are looking for deals or specials
  • 42% of customers are influenced by menu boards 
  • 20% bump in spend among guests influenced by menu boards

Drive-Thru Timer

Restaurants we studied implemented Xenial Drive-thru Director. 

How it works:

This drive-thru timer system displays visual representations of drive-thru traffic on screens inside the restaurant. On the same screen, a service time ranking system pits one store against another by showing their relative speed of service rankings. Healthy competition between crews is a fun way to promote teamwork and improve speed of service.

Noteworthy findings include:

  • 12-second improvement in average speed of service, from 201.8 seconds to 189.48 seconds
  • 9.1% increase in throughput

Download our ROI study to discover more facts and findings.

Outdoor Digital Menu Boards

Restaurants we studied implemented Xenial Outdoor Digital Menu Boards. These bright, vivid displays capture attention with vivid graphics and impressive video elements. A remote and central cloud content management portal makes it easy to change content and update pricing. This portal enables brand content to be designated at the corporate level while giving local control to other parts of menus and displays.

How it works

While the customer is placing their drive-thru order, part of the screen becomes an order confirmation display, showing the items in the order as they are entered into the POS. Next to the order confirmation, an image of a suggested upsell item is displayed. These items are presented dynamically based on current weather/ temperature, current backlog of drive-thru customers/speed of service time (if combined with Xenial Drive-thru Director), actual items in the order, and other intelligent suggestive selling business rules determined by the brand.

The implementation of these technologies resulted in an average 2% increase in LTO sales, a 2% jump in combo meal sales, and a 2.5% increase in overall sales.

Notable results include:

  • 2%: Boost in sales of LTO’s
  • 2%: Boost in sales of combo meals

Want to serve what’s next?

Discover our socially safe solutions for restaurants. Or contact us to learn more.

Be sure to download our ROI study to discover more facts and findings.