Opinion – Load Balancing & Restaurants (or how Drive Thrus Drive People Away)

By | November 10, 2021

 Drive Thrus Driving People Awaysee linkedin article.  This looks at how fixing one thing often breaks another.

Craig Allen Keefner

Craig Allen Keefner

Consultant Self-Service Technology

Much of my career has been devoted to websites and internet properties. High Availability and Burst Capacity are two of the big factors considered.

Having a nice website being overwhelmed by large traffic and sometimes a Denial of Service attack is very common and any internet manager worth his or hers salt has experienced that situation, and vowed to mitigate it in the future.

It’s not surprising them that when I drive by a Chick-Fil-A restaurant (or an In&Out) I see long lines, closed dining rooms, and cars driving off after getting in line and deciding they will just get a Wendys or whatever.

I use Drive-Thrus. My ad hoc experience is that they mess up the order/food probably 25% of the time, and I don’t like handing them my credit card.

There are many factors driving this and the pandemic is just one.

Drive-Thrus are Driving People Away

From Business Insider November 2021

  • Workers in fast food and full-service dining say to-go orders are making their jobs harder.
  • Drive-thru and to-go orders exploded during the pandemic as dining rooms closed.
  • Some workers say they can’t keep up normal standards with multiple orders coming in each minute.

ZDnet wrote up Chick-Fil-A recently as well

In a recent interview with the Atlanta Business Journal, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy admitted: “We estimate about 30% of the people are driving off, driving away, because the lines are so long.”

Chick-Fil-A has tried the Los Angeles approach to mitigating traffic (add more lanes) and has found that doesn’t work, as it hasn’t worked for Los Angeles.

But Chick-fil-A has some particular challenges. It’s often been set in very successful ways. It’s very often been voted the slowest drive-thru — could it be that its employees try and be nice to customers?

In fact, rather than instantly inject technological enhancements, Chick-fil-A has sometimes resorted to just building another Chick-fil-A down the road.

Sadly, Cathy confessed: “We found that doesn’t solve the problem.”

Certainly the lack of interest in being an employee for certain companies has compounded the problem. Example would be the difference among McDonalds franchisees who set their minimum wage. Why work for $9.50 when you can work for $15?

Solution Tactics

Ghost Kitchens is a big trend.

Ghost kitchen as Google Trend chart for past 5 years. Yes it has increased.

I liked the long article on NRF and Ghost kitchens.

Small wonder, then, that ghost kitchens were a $43.1 billion industry in 2019, and expected to reach $71.4 billion by 2027, according to Hospitality Technology.

The most promising and explainable (though not understood) solution is AI. While finding a home in retail inventory and backoffice processes, it seems to be still a shiny button when it comes to direct interaction with consumers. Sounds good. Limiting out of stocks, save time and increase speed of stocking. You might have to wait for that boat off the coast of California before any of that matters of course.

Problem with AI is the very problem it needs to be able to handle, it is totally unable to do. That would be nuanced orders. Just ask yourself how AI conversations either on a website or over the phone inevitably lead to the plea “Customer Service” aka as a real person who can understand the nuance of your situation.

And for sure there are majority of requests. Amica Insurance handles “majority requests” like I need to print a new insurance card by putting a link to do so right on the homepage, thus eliminating 100s of phone calls (or time navigating/searching website).

Robots and Automated Food Preparation is another “maybe this can help?”. See CNBC article Restaurants prep for long-term labor crunch by turning to robots to work the fryer, shuttle food to tables

Panera Bread set a great example before it went multichannel. First thing it did was modernize its kitchens to increase efficiency and thruput. It increased available capacity first. Blaine Hurst was instrumental in that. Investing in infrastructure to support higher number of transaction would seem to make a lot of sense.

Right now mostly what I see are restaurants flailing a bit with the Los Angeles traffic solution.

Author: Staff Writer

Craig Keefner is the editor and author for Kiosk Association and kiosk industry. With over 30 years in the industry and experience in large and small kiosk solutions, Craig is widely considered to be an expert in the field. Major kiosk projects for him include Verizon Bill Pay kiosk and hundreds of others.