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Are Double Drive-Thru’s More Efficient?

In-N-Out Burger, Rallys & Checkers all have one thing in common.  Well, other than burgers.  They all made a name for themselves largely on their drive-thru service.  And many stores, especially Rallys/Checkers and the original batch of In-N-Out’s had double drive-thrus.  Two independent lanes of traffic going to two sides of a central kitchen.  I always thought that was great, except when I was a single driver and went through the left hand lane (for those of you in the UK, you may not immediately recognize the hassle of reaching across the right-side passenger seat).  Anyway, there is an implied built in efficiency to dual lane drive-thru’s.  Two lanes mean processing double the customers per hour, theoretically.  But does it?  Or does it just move the bottleneck further up the literal food chain?

Recently, McDonald’s started rolling out advanced dual-position drive-thru lanes for ordering, but each lane merges into a single one for payment and pickup. 

mcdonalds double drive thru

A new McDonald’s dual-lane drive-thru under construction

There are two flavors of the McDonald’s design, parallel ordering and tandem ordering.  In parallel ordering, pictured above, the drive-thru begins as two separate lanes.  After ordering, the lanes merge and then wrap around the building for payment and pick-up like normal.  For restaurants with limited space, two tandem ordering positions are set up one after the other, allowing two cars to stay in line but order simultaneously, or nearly so.

But think about the rest of the process.  At McDonald’s, there may still be a single order taker.  There is a single payment window and the food comes out of a single window.  So what is the true time savings?  It seems to me that this is just a faster way to get people to place their orders and commit, especially in busy times, without driving away.  And maybe that is part of it.  But equally true is that there is additional “bandwidth” in the assembly process and, many restaurants agree, the true bottleneck is on the customer’s side.  Dual-lane order taking prevents the slow, unsure guest from gumming up the works.  We’ve all been stuck behind one of those, so there’s a plus right there.

What do you think?  Do you see any benefit to this?  Do you think it is more efficient or do you think the public will just think it is?

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