Home Markets I visited McDonald's and Chick-fil-A to compare their drive-thrus, and it's clear...

I visited McDonald's and Chick-fil-A to compare their drive-thrus, and it's clear the 2 fast-food chains are taking entirely different approaches

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Drive-thrus are key for McDonalds. About 95% of the chain’s nearly 14,000 US locations have drive-thrus, with 25,000 worldwide.

McDonald's drive-thru
A McDonald’s 24 hour drive-thru.



Source: Restaurant Dive

“Drive-thru made McDonald’s what it is today,” McDonald’s CEO and president Chris Kempczinski said in an earnings call in April.

Chris Kempczinski McDonald's


Now, the drive-thru is more important than ever, making up more than 90% of business thanks to the pandemic.

mcdonald's drive-thru menu


I gave the classic drive-thru experience a try to see how one of the biggest chains in the world stands up to the competition.

McDonald's drive-thru review


For fairness, I decided to order what the chains are most known for at each restaurant using their apps. At McDonald’s, that’s a quarter pounder and Big Mac, and of course fries.

McDonald's drive-thru review


The app is pretty standard compared to other fast food mobile ordering. I selected my order and location and then went to pick it up through the drive-thru.

McDonald's drive-thru review


The app gave me a short code to give the worker at the speaker, which I think made things move slightly faster than trying to repeat my name a few times.

McDonald's drive-thru review


My McDonald’s location has double drive-thru lanes, a relatively recent innovation that was added to reduce wait times and bottlenecks.

McDonald's drive-thru review


McDonald’s corporate has been pushing franchisees to upgrade drive-thrus since 2019 after years of increasingly long wait times.

McDonald's drive-thru review


Source: Insider

McDonald’s average drive-thru wait times got slower every year for six years through 2019, leading to an all-time high of 273 seconds.

McDonald's drive-thru review


Source: QSR

Along with double lanes, consolidating menus by removing options like grilled chicken sandwiches, salads, and all-day breakfast cut wait times.

McDonald's drive-thru review


Source: Insider

I had a fairly simple order, but I didn’t wait more than five minutes to receive my food.

McDonald's drive-thru review


McDonald’s has also been investing in a curbside pickup program, with designated numbered parking spots where employees can bring out food to waiting customers.

McDonald's drive-thru review


Next up, I went to Chick-fil-A.

chick fil a drive thru


Chick-fil-A is a leader in the drive-thru industry, pioneering technology like handheld tablets for multiple ordering areas and taking orders by video.

chick fil a drive thru


The chain stands out from the drive-thru crowd in large part thanks to its workers with iPads who take orders from cars even before they reach the window. At Chick-fil-A, ordering and delivery are “zones,” not set locations.

chick fil a


Chick-fil-A’s app is better designed and easier to use. It’s simple to choose your nearest location, how you want to get your order, and your food.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru app


You can order before arriving at the restaurant, and the app directs you to exactly where to go and automatically notices when you arrive thanks to geofencing.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru app


It’s also convenient to get directions within the app, or change to curbside pickup if the drive-thru line looks very long.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru app


My local Chick-fil-A also had double lanes, which kept lines moving.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Everything in Chick-fil-A’s operation feels thought out and operates smoothly – like a QR code to make sure customers can see the menu and know what they want to order by the time they make it to the speaker.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


The chain also cuts down on wait times by sending workers out to cars waiting in line to collect payments and deliver food.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


The area where windows would be in any other fast-food drive-thru is instead a large sliding door, which workers are constantly running in and out of, transporting food.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Even double lanes and carhop-style workers can’t stop the wait from being long. The chicken brand’s drive-thrus can get so busy that they create traffic and even legal issues in some locations.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Source: Insider

Sometimes local police even get involved, directing traffic and settling disputes with other nearby businesses who get blocked by Chick-fil-A customers.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


I preferred Chick-fil-A’s food to Mcdonald’s, but the wait was about four times longer at nearly 20 minutes.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Chick-fil-A is a pioneer when it comes to testing out drive-thru technology. Other brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and others are adopting methods proven successful by Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Chick-fil-A was the third-largest US chain by sales in 2019 with $11.3 billion in sales at its about 2,500 locations. McDonald’s was the largest chain, with $40 billion in sales at nearly 14,000 locations.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Source: Insider

The average Chick-fil-A location makes over $4.5 million in annual sales, compared to the average McDonald’s with about $2.9 billion.

GettyImages 1280324094


Source: Insider

Chick-fil-A is somewhat a victim of its own success; even with some of the most advanced technology in the business, wait times are long compared to competitors.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru


McDonald’s has a slight edge for the moment, but Chick-fil-A is gaining on it and poised to surpass the burger giant.

McDonald's Drive Thru Order


Chick-fil-A’s relatively small size is an asset compared to McDonald’s. It has room to grow and build new restaurants with state-of-the-art drive-thrus, and the chain has already shown that it isn’t afraid to experiment with new technology.

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review


Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.