Which Fast Food Chain Has America's Best Drive-Thru?

Fast food burger joint Wendy's rules the drive-thru. The world's third-largest quick service hamburger joint completes drive-thru orders in 129.75 seconds on average, nearly 40 seconds less than the national average and 20 seconds quicker than its closest competitor. This year Wendy's was able to shave 16 seconds off its 2011 time but the company has yet to match its industry record of 116.2 seconds that was recorded in 2003.

Related: How Wendy's Caught up to Burger King

An additional 20 to 30 seconds of wait time may not be noticeable to most consumers, but those extra seconds could greatly impact a company's bottom line. QSR magazine and Insula Research have studied the best and worst drive-thru operations at fast food restaurants for 14 years.

A.J. Fox, director of marketing and sales at Insula Research, tells The Daily Ticker that drive-thru sales account for 50% to 70% of profits for the $200 billion fast food industry. Drive-thru speeds are so important that some companies like Wendy's view drive-thru techniques as trade secrets.

"When the survey started 14 years ago, the drive-thru was just an extension of the counter," Fox says. "Now there are these entire drive-thru teams that concentrate just on the drive-thru. It's like a separate company within the company."

According to Fox, Wendy's drive-thru crew has access to its own set of fryers and griddles and the drive-thru transaction has become completely separate from counter sales. Getting drive-thru orders faster has its obvious advantages for consumers but does speed sacrifice customer service, and more importantly, accuracy?

Insula Research found that Chick-fil-A correctly filled orders 92.4% of the time. Taco Bell was second (91.2%) and McDonald's (MCD) was third (90.9%). Wendy's focus on speed may be the cause of its 89.9% accuracy rate but it still beat Burger King's 83% rate. Insula reported that all the companies in its study improved their veracity over 2011.

Related: Taco Bell on Verge of Comeback, Launches New Upscale Menu

The "2012 QSR Drive-Thru Performance Study" measures fast food brands' wait time, service time, order accuracy, speaker clarity, menuboard appearance and exterior appearance. The study's researchers only tested Burger King (BKW), Chick-fil-A, Krystal, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Wendy's and Bojangles' (every year researchers choose a different regional chain to include in the study). Researchers visited the fast food drive-thru operations between 11am and 2:30pm and 4pm and 7pm in 41 states including Hawaii and Alaska. Locations were tested a maximum of two times for a total of 2,053 visits.

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