Technology Beefs Up Restaurant Drive-Through Experience

May I take your order please?” These sometimes-garbled words uttered through a speaker at your local drive-through restaurant may soon originate from a different city or even another state thanks to new customer-relationship-management technology.

Hardee’s — part of CKE Restaurants Inc. in Carpinteria, Calif., which also operates Carl’s Jr., La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill and Green Burrito brands — is one of the restaurant chains testing new technology that allows remote order taking. It’s already underway at five company-owned stores. Plans are in the works for another 15 stores.

“As we learn more, we will grow more,” Chasney told CRM Buyer. “Our technology is very inexpensive to get out to the store. I can grow very slowly and incrementally, rather than having to invest a lot of money for capital structure.”

Smooth Ride

Some of the remote order-takers will even use the technology, developed in-house at CKE, to take orders from home. Chasney would not provide many details about the system, stating that it is proprietary. But he did say it uses digital-subscriber-lines and integrates with CKE’s existing point-of-sale system. The sound system is also upgraded.

“We developed the solution very quickly. We probably spent more time looking at the design to make sure that we kept it simple,” Chasney said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t dependent upon things that were just a little bit too new to be reliable.”

Chasney said that making the drive-through experience smooth is important since more than 50 percent of Hardee’s sales are from its drive-through. He said that taking orders remotely frees up the workers inside to focus on producing and delivering orders.

Hiring remote order-takers will also allow the chain to hire people who speak clearly and distinctly. CKE will also be looking for bilingual order-takers to focus on parts of the country with a large percentage of non-English speaking customers.

Hard To Tell

“The vast majority of the time customers don’t notice at all” when they order from a remote order-taker, Chasney said. “There is no distinguishable difference between somebody taking the order from within the store or outside of the store.”

A number of McDonald’s franchises across the country are also using a software system to enhance the drive-through ordering process. Nine stores in Colorado Springs, Colo., seven stores in Cape Girardeau, Mo. and one store in Brainerd, Minn. are currently using a software system designed by EXIT41, a software developer in Andover, Mass.

At these stores, customers order from multiple drive-through lanes outside. Inside, customers order from phones located in the seating area or play area. Or they have the option of ordering the traditional way at the counter. All of these locations are coordinated on one Windows-based platform using Java technology and T1 lines.

The system uses digital photos of the cars to match the car with the order. It also uses Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP to link the restaurant with call centers. Pop-up windows alert the remote order-takers to any potential problems inside the store.

Accuracy Increases

Craig Tengler, co-founder and chief marketing officer at EXIT41, told CRM Buyer that restaurants using EXIT41’s software system have been able to increase drive-through orders during peak times from 100 to 110 orders an hour to 140 to 160 orders an hour. He also said that order accuracy has increased along with customer service.

“It kind of balances the entire system,” Tengler said. “The stores are actually quieter. They are less chaotic because people are focusing on production and delivery.”

Other technological advances may be in the works, said Rob Grimes, chief executive at Accuvia, a consultant to the hospitality, food service and retail industries in Germantown, Md. He said that some restaurants are putting cameras on top of their buildings. The restaurants want to develop a correlation between the type of car and what the people inside might order. This would ensure the right food is ready to serve.

Faster service and good service are the key, said Grimes. “You are able to get more checks through, because you are able to speed people through the drive-through. Then customers are happier because you get the order right the first time.”

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