Training Results

Case Study : Drive-Thru Service Times @ McDonald’s
(McDonalds Drive-Thru Waiting Times spreadsheet)

When you’re on the go and looking for a quick meal, where do you go? If you’re like millions of people every day, you make a stop at McDonald’s. Known as “quick service restaurants” in the industry (not “fast food”), companies such as McDonald’s invest heavily to determine the most efficient and effective ways to provide fast, high-quality service in all phases of their business.

Drive-thru operations play a vital role. It’s not surprising that attention is focused on the drive-thru process. After all, over 60% of individual restaurant revenues in the United States come from the drive-thru experience. Yet, understanding the process is more complex than just counting cars. Marla King, professor at the company’s international training center University, got her start 25 years ago working at a McDonald’s drive-thru. She now coaches new restaurant owners and managers. “Our stated drive thru service time is 90 seconds or less. We train every manager and team member to understand that a quality customer experience at the drive-thru depends on them,” says Marla. Some of the factors that affect customers’ ability to complete their purchases within 90 seconds include restaurant staffing, equipment layout in the restaurant, training, efficiency of the grill team, and frequency of customer arrivals, to name a few. Also, customer order patterns also play a role. Some customers will just order drinks, whereas others seem to need enough food to feed an entire soccer team. And then there are the special orders. Obviously, there is plenty of room for variability here.

Yet, that doesn’t stop the company from using statistical techniques to better understand the drive-thru action. In particular, McDonald’s uses graphical techniques to display data and to help transform the data into useful information. For restaurant man agers to achieve the goal in their own restaurants, they need training in proper restaurant and drive-thru operations. The University, McDonald’s training center located near Chicago, Illinois, satisfies that need. In the mock-up restaurant service lab, managers go through a “before and after” training scenario. In the “before” scenario, they run the restaurant for 30 minutes as if they were back in their home restaurants. Managers in the training class are assigned to be crew, customers, drive-thru cars, special needs guests (such as hearing impaired, indecisive, clumsy), or observers. Statistical data about the operations, revenues, and service times are collected and analyzed. Without the right training, the restaurant’s operations usually start breaking down after 1 0–1 5 minutes. After debriefing and analyzing the data collected, the managers make suggestions for adjustments and head back to the service lab to try again. This time, the results usually come in well within standards. “When presented with the quantitative results, managers are pretty quick to make the connections between better operations, higher revenues, and happier customers,” Marla states.

When managers return to their respective restaurants, the training results and techniques are shared with staff who are charged with implementing the ideas locally. The results of the training eventually are measured when McDonald’s conducts a restaurant operations improvement process study, or ROIP. The goal is simple: improved operations. When the ROIP review is completed, statistical analyses are performed and managers are given their results. Depending on the results, decisions might be made that require additional financial resources, building construction, staff training, or reconfiguring layouts. Yet one thing is clear: Statistics drive the decisions behind McDonald’s drive-through service operations.


  1. After returning from the training session at the University, a McDonald’s store owner selected a random sample of 362 drive-thru customers and carefully measured the time it took from when a customer entered the McDonald’s property until the customer received the order at the drive-thru window. These data are in the file called McDonald’s Drive-Thru Waiting Times. Note, the owner selected some customers during the breakfast period, others during lunch, and others during dinner. Construct any appropriate graphs and charts that will effectively display these drive-thru data. Prepare a short discussion indicating the conclusions that this store owner might reach after reviewing the graphs and charts you have prepared.
  2. Referring to question 1, suppose the manager comes away with the conclusion that his store is not meeting the 90-second customer service goal. As a result he plans to dig deeper into the problem by collecting more data from the drive-thru process. Discuss what other measures you would suggest the manager collect. Discuss how these data could be of potential value in helping the store owner understand his problem. 3. Visit a local McDonald’s that has a drive-thru facility. Randomly sample 20 drive-thru customers and collect the following data:
    • a. the total time from arrival on the property to departure from the drive-thru window
    • b. the time from when customers place the order until they receive their order and exit the drive-thru process
    • c. the number of cars in the line when the sampled vehicle enters the drive-thru process
    • d. Using the data that you have collected, construct appropriate graphs and charts to describe these data. Write a short report discussing the data

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