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Drive-thru to Delivery: The Biggest QSR Trends for 2024

At its core, innovation is what makes fast food so fantastic. Sure, potatoes and chicken are tasty on their own, but creative spice mixes and modern frying technology really give fast food its pizzazz. 

Innovation is now taking over other areas of modern restaurants. The pandemic forced the food service industry to adopt digital transformation, from touchless payments to digital menus and online delivery, in order to maintain the golden trio of service: Speed, consistency, and accuracy. 

As the digital transformation trend continues, the industry spotlight turns away from delivery and toward the drive-thru.

The Changing Landscape of QSRs

Customers like to move with the times, for better and, sometimes, for worse. Global growth will decelerate from 3% this year to 2.9% in 2024, and it might pull customer spending down with it – 45% of adults say they’re eating out less at fast food restaurants in light of macroeconomic turmoil. 

However, despite financial pressures, 84% of consumers say going out to a restaurant with family and friends is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up, and 65% of Americans still consume fast food at least once a week. 

Food spending is expected to rebound through 2024 and into 2025 as the country moves into a recovery phase following a mild recession. Across the pond in Europe, consumer spending in the food service industry has already returned to pre-COVID levels. 

The data shows that, no matter what’s going on with the economy, customers still want to get their hands on delicious fast food. They are just more price-conscious and have higher expectations, so the pressure is on QSRs to make every visit worth diners’ time and money.

The Drive-Thru Resurgence

The Drive-Thru Resurgence

As the drive-thru rapidly rose in popularity throughout the pandemic at a rate of 30%, the lanes now account for over two-thirds of all fast food purchases and up to 70% of QSRs’ revenue.

The drive-thru has taken on a strategic role over the last few years, helping QSRs navigate the challenges of touchless ordering and in-store restrictions. 

For a short time, the drive-thru was a necessity for customers and QSRs, and it has endured as a preference for customers. In fact, 40% choose the drive-thru every time they visit a fast food restaurant.

Busier lanes put more strain on QSRs – some of which are still working with a skeleton crew following years of intense labor shortages in the food service industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, the industry is still short of 500,000 jobs. But with labor costs hovering around a huge 30% and the California Minimum Wage Bill on the horizon, how can you keep up? The big trend of 2024 has the answer. 

The Biggest QSR Trend for 2024

AI-powered drive-thrus are set to dominate the QSR industry as the number one trend in 2024. 58% of restaurant operators say using tech and automation to alleviate labor shortages will become more common, according to the 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report by the National Restaurant Association.

Leading brands like Lee’s Famous Chicken Recipe and Checkers and Rally’s have already scaled voice AI technology by Auto, with the latter rolling out the tech successfully in 350 stores. 

According to the 2023 QSR© Drive-Thru Report, ‘speed and technology, unsurprisingly, form a symbiotic relationship’ and ‘brands that seamlessly connect their drive-thrus with digital technology […] have an edge.’ Here’s why.

Consistency and Accuracy 

In the 2023 QSR© Drive-Thru Report, accuracy dropped as low as 88% in some establishments. A common misconception is that voice AI can’t handle the heat of a busy drive-thru environment. In reality, the opposite is true. 

Some voice AI, like Hi Auto, can process mid-sentence changes, handle multiple requests, understand accents, provide Spanish language support, and digest forty complex menus. Lee’s Famous Chicken Recipe has enjoyed a 94% accuracy rate using Hi Auto – even higher than the accuracy rate of human servers.

The beauty of Hi Auto is that it is friendly, clear, and consistent 100% of the time, 24/7 – and faster than 75% of employees.



Speed plays a significant role in customer satisfaction rates and repeat business. 47% of people say speed is the biggest reason why they choose the drive-thru, and the reasons for slow speed of service (e.g., staffing shortages, increased workloads, and a lack of technology integration) can be solved with AI. 

Voice AI never needs a break, which is why it is an invaluable tool at the drive-thru – after all, every second counts. Reducing the drive-thru wait time by five seconds in one location can lead to over $8,200 in gains per year (based on the average meal price of $10.35).

Other Trends to Be Aware of in 2024

1. Wage Hikes and the Labor Shortage Loop

While the California Minimum Wage bill might not seem like a ‘trend,’ it will undoubtedly influence your business model in 2024. Investing in automation helps you identify where you can save on labor costs, allowing you to reduce your headcount and delegate a higher workload to never-tired tech at the drive-thru.

2. Omnichannel Experiences

It’s no longer just option A (eat in) or option B (take out). Technology innovations provide quick-service restaurants with various options for ordering, pickup, and drive-thru, which will be a major win for QSRs in 2024. 

In the 2023 QSR© Drive-Thru Report, QSR Magazine noted that by providing choices in how guests interact with brands, QSRs can meet customer needs across various channels, whether it’s through the app, drive-thru, kiosks, curbside, third-party delivery, or dining-in. 

3. Personalized Marketing

The rise of app-based and online ordering presents opportunities for capturing customer data, which you can use to offer customized and personalized marketing experiences. The Starbucks app is a great example – it allows users to save their custom orders for fast and easy re-ordering, and users can enjoy extra loyalty points and perks.

2024: The Year of Digital Transformation

AI technology is just the tip of the iceberg for the drive-thru of the future. Huge brands like McDonald’s and Taco Bell already use it as a competitive advantage. 

Hi Auto is the leader in conversational AI, with the technology used in more QSRs than any other company. Hi Auto offers 94% accuracy to automate your process and eliminate labor shortages, offering a seamless experience to every customer. 

Contact us to give Hi Auto a try.

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