Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and Starbucks are turning to drive-thrus as COVID-19 spreads

The rise of the drive-thru
The rise of the drive-thru

As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold in the United States, restaurant chains are rolling out new measures to ensure customer safety.

Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and  Starbucks are among the restaurants encouraging customers to grab their food and go. All three are making heavy use of their drive-thrus to distribute food, while still limiting crowds of customers from gathering.

It's a move that might not faze consumers all that much. Even before the coronavirus ushered in an age of social distancing, drive-thru service was hugely popular in the U.S.

Experts estimate that about 60% to 70% of a restaurant's sales come from the drive-thru, if they have one. That means nailing the customer experience is essential.

Drive-thrus have been undergoing transformations as restaurants turn to technological solutions to boost sales. Companies are pouring money into innovations to get diners to spend more.

Dunkin' Donuts unveiled its first dual-lane drive-thru system in 2018, and Chipotle rolled out its version of the drive-thru called Chipotlanes in early 2019.

"We're doing a number of things to make sure that not only is it fast, not only is the food delicious, but also to make sure we get your order right," said Jack Hartung, CFO of Chipotle.

And it's working. In 2019, 39% of consumers reported that they used the drive-thru more often than they did the year prior.

Despite the surge in popularity, just 20% of American restaurant operators currently have drive-thrus. In a segment with razor-thin margins like fast food, providing solid drive-thru service can be make or break.

How are restaurants improving the drive-thru experience? Watch the video above to see what changes fast-food chains are making.