I compared drive-thrus at McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A and preferred the fried-chicken chain’s human touches over AI — even though it took double the time

I tested the drive-thrus at McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images; Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

I visited McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A to compare their drive-thru experiences.
Both chains are trying to speed up their drive-thrus with order-ahead options on their apps.
McDonald’s is using AI voice recognition to take orders, while Chick-fil-A is humanizing its customer service with friendly fast-food workers.

McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A have both updated their drive-thrus in recent years. McDonald’s has been adding AI-powered voice bots to its drive-thru lanes, while Chick-fil-A has been opening some drive-thru only locations, as the chains look to improve convenience and speed of service.

I recently tested drive-thrus at Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s in Overland, Kansas to see how they compared.

McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are both using their mobile apps to drive loyalty and repeat visits, as well as speed up ordering in the drive-thru.


Both fast-food chains have mobile order-ahead and pickup options on their apps. The Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s apps also offer delivery options — which McDonald’s calls a “McDelivery” option. Customers can also order food from these chains through other delivery apps, including UberEats. 

Before I drove to Chick-fil-A, I placed my order ahead of time on the mobile app.
A screenshot of my Chick-fil-A mobile order

Grace Mayer

 I ordered a Chick-fil-A deluxe sandwich meal with a frosted lemonade. 

When I arrived at Chick-fil-A, I found a lengthy drive-thru line.

Grace Mayer

It was 1 p.m. and peak lunchtime hour. And Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru is notorious for its long lines. 

The fast-food chain routinely ranks among the slowest for its service times, compared to peers. Chick-fil-A ranked last on a list of fast-food restaurants for drive-thru service times at more than five minutes, just behind McDonald’s, according to a 2022 drive-thru report from QSR. Still, customers reported Chick-fil-A had a 93% score for speed-of-service satisfaction, according to the report. 

Some Chick-fil-A locations’ drive-thru lines have gotten so busy that they’ve created traffic problems for nearby businesses.

Grace Mayer

During the pandemic, when Chick-fil-A’s restaurants only offered drive-thru service, some locations faced complaints and lawsuits from local businesses. Business owners told Insider that long drive-thru lines at Chick-fil-A created traffic problems, such as blocking cars in parking lots and contributing to traffic hazards.

The Chick-fil-A restaurant I went to in Overland Park, Kansas divided its drive-thru traffic into double lanes.

Grace Mayer

Chick-fil-A is a trend-setter in the fast-food industry when it comes to drive-thru innovation. The chain was quick to adopt double drive-thru lanes, which can help cut down on wait times and prevent drive-thru lines from getting too long.

At some Chick-fil-A locations, customers can skip the drive-thru entirely by ordering food on the mobile app and scheduling a curbside pickup.

When I pulled up to the speaker, a friendly-sounding employee greeted me.

Grace Mayer

I told him I placed a mobile order, and he asked for my name to confirm. 

Chick-fil-A stations workers with iPads and mobile card readers throughout the drive thru.

Grace Mayer

These workers, decked out in bright yellow vests, create multiple stop points, beyond the standard speaker and order windows. Their job is to take orders and collect payments from customers. 

I saw that the employee stationed in my drive-thru line was confirming orders and collecting payments from cars. Because I had placed my order ahead of time and already paid through the app, the employee just confirmed my order. 

It’s clear that Chick-fil-A wants its employees to remain a key part of its drive-thru experience.

Grace Mayer

While other fast food chains are moving to AI-voice powered voice bots to take customer orders in drive-thrus, Chick-fil-A is focusing on what it calls “face-to-face ordering.” At some Chick-fil-A restaurants, customers can place drive-thru orders over FaceTime with employees.

Instead of a delivery window, the Chick-fil-A location had double doors that allowed workers to quickly hand over orders to customers. 

Although I ordered ahead, it still took around 10 minutes to receive my food.

Grace Mayer

That’s about twice the average wait time for Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru that QSR reported last year. 

Next, I ordered ahead on the McDonald’s mobile app, then drove to the restaurant.

Grace Mayer

I ordered a Quarter Pounder meal with cheese and a medium Sprite. Compared to Chick-fil-A, which associated my order with my name, my McDonald’s mobile order assigned me a code to read aloud when I pulled through the drive-thru.

When I pulled up to McDonald’s, I saw that the drive-thru featured double lanes, similar to Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru setup.

Grace Mayer

There was only one car ahead of me, so I made it to the speaker quickly to report my arrival.

When I pulled up to the speaker, I was greeted by an AI-powered voice bot.

Grace Mayer

In the drive-thru lane, an electronic voice first asked me if I placed a mobile order, to which I responded yes. After that, the AI voice asked me to recite the order code. It registered the letters and numbers I read, and the order screen displayed a picture of my order.

A McDonald’s employee waved me past the pay window, since I had already paid through the app.

Grace Mayer

When I got to the second window, my order wasn’t ready, so an employee asked me to pull into one of the parking spots designated for drive-thru customers. 

McDonald’s beat Chick-fil-A’s wait time by about six minutes.

Grace Mayer

A McDonald’s employee delivered my order to my car window about four minutes after I first arrived at the ordering kiosk. But McDonald’s was also serving far fewer customers in the drive-thru than the Chick-fil-A I visited.

McDonald’s has been working on improving the speed of its drive-thru lines since 2019.

Grace Mayer

During the pandemic, when wait times were especially long in drive-thru lines at many fast-food chains, McDonald’s cut some menu items to speed up its operations. Its AI-voice powered speakers in the drive-thrus are just the latest innovation from the fast-food chain.

Chick-fil-A has also said it’s working to speed up its drive-thrus.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Chick-fil-A is working on rolling out “express lanes,” solely for customers who place orders ahead on their mobile app. The express lanes would be designed to allow customers to breeze much faster through the drive-thru lanes.

The restaurant is also opening drive-thru only locations in the US that are specifically designed to handle high-volume drive-thru orders.

My experiences at both fast-food chains showed how the brands are taking different routes when it comes to customer service in their drive-thrus.
A employee at McDonald’s hands a customer his credit card and receipt behind a special piece of glass for protection after taking his order.

Michael Siluk/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Overall, I preferred Chick-fil-A’s focus on human interaction, even through the service was slower. 

It was nice to see Chick-fil-A employees’ smiles and hear their enthusiasm for helping me. By comparison, I was initially startled to hear the AI bot at the McDonald’s drive-thru.

I’m sure I’ll get used to AI drive-thru bots as more chains adopt them. White Castle, Panera Bread, Popeyes, and Taco Bell are among the many chains testing AI-powered voice technology.

More widespread use of the bots could also give Chick-fil-A a leg up over rivals for customers like me who prefer face-to-face customer service.


Read the original article on Business Insider

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