Upsized Drive Thru Problems: Unpleasant Customer Experiences Abound

A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Xenial showed that drive-thru customers are ready for a fully automated experience.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Sixty-five percent of Americans who visit quick service restaurants (QSRs) say they have had an unpleasant drive thru experience in the last six months, according to a new survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Xenial, a Global Payments (NYSE: GPN) company. Xenial offers a leading, complete technology solutions platform for multi-unit QSR and fast casual restaurants. 

Highlights of the survey include:

  • Speed of service (42%), health concerns (31%) and avoiding human interaction (32%) drive openness to automated experiences
  • Forty-nine percent of Americans who visit quick service restaurants willing to eliminate all human interaction
  • Fifty-five percent of those who visit quick service restaurants prefer the drive-thru and 18% prefer carryout, compared to eight percent for curbside 

Asked why they had an unpleasant drive-thru experience in the last six months, 26% of those who visit QSRs identified understaffing and 30% called out long lines as causes. 

Increased pressure on drive thrus -- driven by Covid-19 protocols, consumer health concerns and labor shortages -- is causing many QSRs to invest in automation. The Xenial/Harris Poll survey suggests customers are receptive to these changes. Nearly half of Americans who visit QSRs (49%) say they are willing to eliminate all human interaction when ordering and receiving their fast-food, assuming their orders are received and fulfilled accurately and in a timely fashion. Younger Americans who visit QSRs are more likely than their older counterparts to say this (62% for those ages 18-44).

Among those who are willing to eliminate human interaction, the reasons for doing so varied widely. About one in three Americans who visit QSRs (32%) said they prefer not to interact with people unless it’s necessary, this reason being more likely among those ages 18-44 than those ages 65+ (37% versus 29%). Nearly a third of those who visit QSRs, 31%, want to avoid human contact for health reasons. More than two in five of those who visit QSRs (42%) believe automated systems would be faster than humans. 

“There is a broad base of support for an automated QSR customer experience,” said Chris Siefken, head of technology for Xenial. “Ongoing labor shortages and consumer appetite for the drive thru are putting enormous stress on restaurants, and new technologies can help alleviate pressure points and free up workers to fulfill orders accurately and quickly.”

Nearly one in five (19%) of those who are willing to eliminate human interaction said they would be willing to do so because they believe automated systems would be more friendly than humans. Among those who had a negative drive-thru experience, 36% listed the poor attitude or behavior of drive thru staff as reasons.

“Labor shortages are highlighting the fact that automation isn’t necessarily about replacing existing workers,” Siefken added. “It’s about making quick service restaurant jobs easier so existing workers have the bandwidth to provide excellent customer service at those points where people are needed. Automation can improve the overall employee experience, which can lead to better retention.” 

Asked what purchase channel they most often utilize when visiting a QSR, 55% of those who visit QSRs chose the drive thru, 18% identified in-restaurant takeout, 19% selected in-restaurant dining and eight percent chose curbside pickup. 

For more information about Xenial products and services, visit

About Xenial

Xenial, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Global Payments (NYSE: GPN), develops, installs and supports the software and hardware that help multi?unit restaurant brands serve great food and unmatched guest experiences. Xenial (pronounced zee/nee/ul) comes from the ancient Greek word for hospitality.

About Global Payments

Global Payments Inc. (NYSE: GPN) is a leading payments technology company delivering innovative software and services to our customers globally. Our technologies, services and team member expertise allow us to provide a broad range of solutions that enable our customers to operate their businesses more efficiently across a variety of channels around the world.

Headquartered in Georgia with nearly 24,000 team members worldwide, Global Payments is a Fortune 500® company and a member of the S&P 500 with worldwide reach spanning over 100 countries throughout North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. For more information, visit and follow Global Payments on Twitter (@globalpayinc), LinkedIn and Facebook.

Survey Method:
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Xenial from July 26-28, 2021 among 2,074 adults, among whom 1,921 visit quick service restaurants. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Media Contact:

Matt Cochran 404.542.1339