Chick-fil-A Has an Innovative but Human Way to Eliminate the Queue


Very few people enjoy waiting in line for anything. Although you might be convinced otherwise by people who want the latest iPhone or Justin Bieber tickets, there are few things more frustrating than having to slowly shuffle along behind a line of your fellow customers before you even get to place your order.

This has led many brands in the food and beverage space to come up with ways to allow their customers to order in advance and simply collect their order when they arrive. Starbucks has a system that allows you to order using its app and set a collection time, as does sandwich brand, Subway. McDonald's and Taco Bell both have systems in place which let you place your order on digital stations in-restaurant to avoid lining up for the register.

Chick-fil-A is the latest food and beverage brand to tackle this challenge and has gone all out in its efforts to eliminate the queue once and for all.


It may surprise you to learn than Chick-fil-A is one of the most popular quick-service restaurants in the US, beating out even McDonald's in terms of sales per unit by nearly double. A vast proportion of this business comes from the company's drive-thru service which accounts for around 60% of Chick-fil-A's total business. 2017 data from Chick-fil-A itself estimates that most of its restaurants serve over one hundred cars every day during peak hours alone.

This can often lead to customers lining up around the block during busy periods. As many people visit quick-service drive-thru restaurants such as Chick-fil-A on their way to work or during their lunch break, the company understands that time and convenience is often of the essence for these busy patrons.

Thankfully, Chick-fil-A has its own innovation center based in Atlanta, from which it can test and implement innovations to help it combat this problem. The center even has a fully operational drive-thru which means it can test innovations to solve pain points in almost every aspect of the business.

From this hub of innovative thinking came the idea to bring the personal in-restaurant service experience out into the drive-thru. A face-to-face ordering service has Chick-fil-A team members heading out into the drive-thru queue and using Bluetooth enabled digital tablets to take customer's orders in person. This not only helps orders be taken more quickly but provides waiting and often frustrated customers with a personal experience which will help them feel like the company takes an interest in them and wants to help them out.

The company's face-to-face ordering service came about and has helped Chick-fil-A maintain its industry-leading customer service standards," said Director of Service and Hospitality for Chick-fil-A, Khalilah Cooper. "We think about our drive-thru design very intentionally to create a unique and different experience. The idea is to bring our hospitality out to the drive-thru. Operators like the idea of getting orders in sooner, but also greeting guests sooner so they could make a connection earlier. We think of it as a microburst of hospitality."

Drive-Thru Experience

The face-to-face ordering service is not the end of Chick-fil-A's plan to make the drive-thru experience more friendly and convenient either.

Some Chick-fil-A locations are experimenting with replacing the traditional drive-thru window with a door. This allows team members to walk out and serve food to customers directly instead of passing the food to them from a window, which can feel a little impersonal or even lead to occasional dropped items. Outside meal delivery is also being tested where customers pull up in a designated spot to have their food brought out to them, complete with magnetic delineators which help separate staff from the vehicles and helps keep team members safe.

All this drive-thru innovation doesn't mean that Chick-fil-A is neglecting its dine-in customers, however. With its new mobile ordering service, customers can order food from their table, tapping their phone on a special number on their table to associate the order with that location. Chick-fil-A has also been experimenting with a touch-button call service which will allow customers to add extra items to a previously placed order without having to leave their table. Not only does this offer that customer an extra layer of convenience, but it also further reduces the size of the queue and provides other customers with a more satisfactory experience.

"So many of our customers' busy lives and commitments have them strapped for time," added Cooper. "This technology will be particularly helpful for busy parents who can now head straight into the restaurant and have their meal brought to their table at their convenience, without waiting in line."

Final Thoughts

It's great to see Chick-fil-A taking so many steps to reduce waiting times for its drive-thru and dine-in customers. We're particular fans of the drive-thru door idea and it would be amazing to see more fast food brands adopt this technology.

Better service through technology is set to be a hot topic at Digital Food and Beverage 2020, taking place in July at the Hilton Austin, TX.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

WBR Insights is the custom research division of Worldwide Business Research (WBR). Our mission is to help inform and educate key stakeholders with research-based whitepapers, webinars, digital summits, and other thought-leadership assets while achieving our clients' strategic goals.

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