McDonald’s and the Science of Drive-Through Lane Wait Times

Ten years ago, customers placing orders in the drive-through lane at McDonald’s would have their food in about two and a half minutes (or 152 seconds, if you want to get precise). Today, the same order takes a bit over three minutes (or 189.5 seconds) on average, according to analyst research from Janney Montgomery Scott. While a half-minute extra might not seem like a lot, it represents lost customers and revenue at a company that can ill afford to lose either.

When Richard Adams owned a string of McDonald’s franchises in Southern California, he liked to sit outside and do paperwork. It gave him great insight into the business, he said, and how all those seconds add up.

“My magic number was 13,” said Mr. Adams, who now has a consulting firm. “Once 13 cars had lined up in the drive-through, all the other cars would turn around and drive away. There was a point where people just wouldn’t wait. McDonald’s has ignored this problem for a long time.”

The longer wait times are primarily the result of efforts to make McDonald’s more varied and relevant in a premium, fast-casual world. And perhaps nothing exemplifies this problem better than the Premium McWrap.

Stephanie Strom, writing in the New York Times about the fast food giant’s current “identity crisis”—can McDonald’s appeal to more varied customers without losing their core base?

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