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Automated Drive-thru Ordering: Your Essential Guide

The drive-thru is more popular than ever: it has grown by 20% over the past two years. But growth + more traffic + labor crisis = a higher likelihood that orders will be slow, incorrect, and inconsistent. 

A recent survey showed that a huge 65% of diners had an unpleasant drive-thru experience in the last six months, which they attributed to understaffing, long lines, and poor staff behavior. 

But the solution to this problem is not to tell staff to be ‘quicker,’ ‘friendlier,’ and ‘get the order right!’ because staffing issues and human limitations are causing these pitfalls in the first place. 

Instead, big-name QSRs are ramping up their technology investment, ready for an automated future. Checkers Drive-in Restaurants are leading the pack and using automation to deliver great service while moving as many customers as possible through their lanes.

Let’s look at what an automated drive-thru looks like and how it could benefit your QSR. 

What is an Automated Drive-thru?

QSR fans around the globe recognize the word ‘drive-thru’ as easily as they recognize their own name. But let’s talk about the drive-thru’s innovative relative: the automated drive-thru. 

An automated drive-thru is an experience where each component can operate efficiently thanks to the creation and application of technology. 

Automated features are already an essential staple in most QSR restaurants, from digital menus to QR code ordering and digitized food processing.

What are the benefits of an Automated Drive-thru?

These benefits have driven QSR giants to invest and focus more on their automation efforts. 


75% of customers want a personalized experience: if customers expect this during other buying experiences, you can be certain they expect it when they dine with their favorite QSR.  

Purchase history ordering suggestions, unique promotions, and geo-tracking are great components of an automated drive-thru that will help QSRs deliver the 1:1 experiences that diners expect. 

Increased Upselling

The great thing about upselling is that it can increase revenue by 10-30%. The bad thing? You can bet that your employees aren’t doing it.

Voice ordering AI is a simple automation addition to your drive-thru that can skyrocket your upselling opportunities. Take solutions like Auto, which upsells in 76% of cases, compared to employees’ attempts only 4.6% of the time.

What are the benefits of an automated drive-thru

Reduce labor costs

Labor costs account for 30% of QSRs’ expenditure. But why spend money on staff when you don’t necessarily need them?

An automated drive-thru transfers workloads from your employees to technology, AI, robotics, and more. Invest once in automation technology rather than investing continually in labor costs. 

Say goodbye to staffing issues

A recent report showed that 4 in 5 restaurants are short-staffed. While automation technology at the drive-thru can pick up the slack from your employees, it can also help behind the scenes. 

For example, a great POS (Point of Sale) system or AI technology can help you predict busy periods, schedule staff accordingly, and prevent labor shortages.

Consistent customer experience

There’s a reason why diners return again and again to your QSR: consistency. They expect consistency in the food, but also when it comes to customer service.

Humans are humans, meaning they’ll sometimes be slow, lazy, or moody! Although it’s impossible to expect humans to deliver perfect customer service every time, AI and automation can help you serve up a consistently fast, convenient, and enjoyable experience.

A speedier service

Thanks to the rise of digitization, diners expect QSR service to be faster than ever before. But rather than blaming the digital era for these super-high expectations, embrace it.

Automated drive-thru technologies such as integrated POS systems, contactless payments, digital menus, and voice ordering can consistently speed up your service delivery. 

How to utilize automation in the drive-thru to boost sales

Diners choose QSRs because they are convenient and quick, and automation technology perfectly enhances these qualities. 

The number one goal of QSRs is to deliver excellent food and awesome service to as many customers as possible, but is your old-fashioned drive-thru scalable and reliable enough to help you boost sales?

How to utilize automation in the drive-thru to boost sales

Technology can handle every part of the drive-thru experience seamlessly. It can greet customers, take orders, upsell, communicate with the kitchen, and prepare food. 

The best part? Technology can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so it’s an easily scalable solution to help you keep up with traffic spikes. 

Voice AI

Restaurant staffing levels remain 12% lower than pre-pandemic levels—but up to 85% of QSR revenue comes from the drive-thru. 

drive-thrus have peaks and troughs in traffic—which is natural, especially if your QSR offers 24-hour service.  Your lanes are a valuable source of cash, so rather than expecting an employee to captain the ship at all times, automated order-taking like Auto steps in. 

It’s fair to say that voice AI wins the award for the Next Big Thing: 50% of people use voice tech to research products, and there are one billion searches by voice per month. As the interest in voice ordering significantly increases, customers expect to encounter this technology in real-world usage.

Auto does everything that a human can, only more efficiently: it has an order accuracy rate of 94% to guarantee consistency of service, and its impressive 21% upsell success rate can help boost your revenue. Auto is currently taking orders in 250 restaurants across the US, making Hi Auto the first company in the world to widely deploy voice ordering in drive-thrus. 

Food preparation robots

You name it, and there’s a robot that can do it.

This is an impressive testament to the technology and engineering innovations at QSR operators’ fingertips. Robotics excels at overcoming higher-than-ever customer expectations for perfect, accurate, and speedy service behind the scenes of the drive-thru and in the kitchens. 

It plays a crucial role in food preparation. You need some burgers flippin’? Robot. Are you adding salad to your menu and need someone to prepare it? Robot. Your drive-thru is facing increased customer demand, and you need a helping hand to make pizzas from dough to delivery… robot.

Domino’s self-driving pizza delivery robot is already doing just that. Elsewhere in the QSR world, restaurants are applying robotics technology to clean cooking utensils, automate beverage dispensing, and take over as many tasks as possible from overstretched staff.

Food preparation robots

Inventory management

Inventory management once meant walking around an overcrowded storeroom, ticking off every single item with a clipboard and a pen that constantly ran out of ink.

This painstaking process is a thing of the past. A centralized, digitized inventory management solution can monitor stock levels no matter where the items are in your restaurant.

Inventory management software and voice ordering are a perfect pair. If the inventory is low, your inventory management system or staff can inform the voice ordering software at your drive-thru, which will offer alternative items accordingly. 

This level of automation and integration saves time and money, prevents unhappy customers and shortages, and reduces vital food waste. 

What does the future of the drive-thru look like?

Back in the 1950s, the drive-thru experience was hardly about the food and service. It was about socializing with friends and relaxing in your Cadillac, smoking cigarettes, and blowing bubblegum (or whatever people did back then!).

Customers in 2022 see the drive-thru in a totally different way. Now, it’s all about speed and automation. Diners haven’t just stepped away from the 1950s ideal of socializing over a burger and fries, they’ve left those old behaviors in the dust. Nearly half of respondents said they would be willing to eliminate all human interaction when visiting a QSR—as long as orders are received and fulfilled quickly and accurately. 

Luckily, accuracy and speed are at the heart of drive-thru automation enablers like Auto, which is why voice ordering is set to stand the test of time. Voice ordering can exceed employee accuracy and upselling rates, plus it is always ready to work to keep your service moving.

Kind of like human interaction, without the human… which is exactly what modern-day diners want. 

Remove human interactions without compromising on the human touch

Everything is changing for QSRs, especially diner behaviors and expectations. But just because diners don’t want to mingle with real humans at the drive-thru doesn’t mean that the drive-thru experience needs to be cold, dull, and robotic.

QSRs are looking ahead at a digitized future and are implementing automation tech into their drive-thrus. Auto has been designed to act human, only better—so you get the efficiency and accuracy of automation without compromising on the human touch. 

Auto greets your guests, can understand accents and can process mid-sentence changes and work with complex menus. 

Book a demo today to take your first step towards an automated future. 

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