Success of Fast Food Restaurants Start With How Customers Order Their Food


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A few years ago, I took my operations management team on a field trip in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. The destination? Fast food restaurants. The purpose? To experience how process design impacts customer experience, and ultimately the success of the establishment.

Our first stop: McDonalds. The five of us crammed into a tight crowded area, spreading out into separate lines in front of a register. The five order takers were busily moving their specific lines as fast as they could, but large complicated orders were clogging up the line, slowing the pace. While the order was being filled, people milled in front of the register waiting. And when the food arrived, people would grab napkins, stirrers and straws from containers at the register. The result: A crowded mess and unhappy customers.

Lesson learned: In that location, McDonalds probably did 75% of its overall business during lunch, yet it was clear that the lobby was just not big enough. The separate lines for each register, the lack of space for waiting customers, and the fulfillment of napkins at the same place made the purchase experience completely problematic.

Our next stop: Wendy’s. When we entered the restaurant, there was a feeling of order…a single line organized with rope barriers guiding people. When a register opened, the next person in line moved to that spot. When the single line became long, a Wendy’s person came out and took orders for each person in line, giving them a slip of paper to hand to the register clerk for faster ordering and payment. Once an order was given, the customer shifted to the side where condiments and napkins were available, making plenty of room for the next customer. Once the order was ready, the customer was called, and the food was given. The result: a fast and responsive system.

Lesson learned: Given that orders are not uniform, the Wendy’s line systen eliminated the unlucky line selection from the process. As well, the ordering and the fulfillment process were separated so as to keep the flow moving. Lastly, when the line queued up during rush hour, Wendy’s employees came out from behind the counter to take “pre-orders” so that when the customer made it to the register, the transaction was sped up dramatically.

Our last stop: Sbarro’s Italian. This food setup is cafeteria-style, in that customers take a tray and single file move their way through the selections. Seeing and smelling the food was a lot different than just ordering from a board. HYowever, the speed of this process was totally dependent upon the orders of the people in front of you. If you just wanted a slice of pizza and a fountain drink, the speed of your order may be a minute if the line is short, but 10 minutes if the person in front of you ordered four calzones. The result: the potential for extreme delay.

Lesson learned: Single queues with variable service times may be the easiest of all processes to set up, but have the real potential to clog up. Here you are only as fast as the slowest order.

My View:

Commitment to service is more than just enthusiastic employees and encouraging posters. Sometimes the commitment is also in the thoughtful design of the service delivery itself.

These three restaurants were within a block of each other, competing for basically the same clientele…the business employee. The criteria–good food in quick delivery–was the same for all three. Yet, each designed its delivery differently…and according to my operation management team, with different results.

Wendy’s clearly understood and designed its process to deliver. Its single line system with different areas for ordering and pickup sped up the process. Its contingency plan to take pre-orders enabled the process not to get bogged down the volumes increased.

McDonalds was poorly designed, from process to lobby space. The entire experience left the customer wanting better.

And Sbarro’s restaurant, while showcasing its food, created a potential for severe bottlenecks, especially for those ordering quick items. When a slice and a Coke take 15 minutes to order, no matter how good the food is, the customer will be unhappy.

When a company makes the commitment to deliver permium service, understanding how it is delivered and the impact on satisfaction is critical. Then the company can design its processes to deliver. This is one of the themes within “Perfect Service.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Myers
Benefits Services Consulting
For more than 2 years, Chris Myers has designed and managed industry leading Employee Benefits service organizations. His passionate and innovative approach to service is widely recognized in the benefits field. His "Perfect Service" approach was created in 21 and within two years improved his company's satisfaction ratings to the top of the industry.


  1. Hello Chris,

    my name is Faji, and i own a small fastfood restaurant in Nigeria.

    i want to build an AUTOMATED BUSINESS PROCESS OF OPERATIONS so that the business can run effectively even when i am not there. from production, stock-taking, accounting, front-office sales etc.

    is there anyway you can be of help??




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