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McDonald's Is Testing a Futuristic Drive-Thru Concept, But It Isn't as Cool as Taco Bell's

The drive-thru experience may be changing forever...

In the world of fast food, speed leads to more sales and that's what McDonald's is going for with its new, futuristic drive-thru design opening near Fort Worth, Texas.

When visiting a drive-thru, customers want to order and enjoy their food as fast as possible. Interestingly, according to the latest annual Drive-Thru Study by QSR Magazine and Intouch Insight, drive-thru waiting times among the industry's leading brands have actually increased by 45 seconds since 2019.

That study assessed 10 of the industry's largest chains, including Burger King, Wendy's, Chick-fil-A, and of course, the biggest fast food brand in the world: McDonald's.

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Indeed, the Golden Arches define fast food for tens of millions, but McDonald's has fallen behind its competitors in terms of drive-thru service, according to the latest research. For instance, while McDonald's ranked #2 in 2021 and 2020 for "fastest total time spent in drive-thru," this year they didn't even crack the top 5. McDonald's also had the second worst customer satisfaction rating among analyzed drive-thrus, with only Wendy's scoring lower.

Those numbers aren't so great for Mickey D's, but the fast food leader is already testing out a futuristic approach to serving customers on the go. McDonald's announced yesterday that one restaurant close to Fort Worth, Texas will soon feature a food conveyor belt, an order ahead lane, a pickup room for delivery workers, and a shelf where people can grab their orders.

Providing a possible sneak peek into the future of all brick-and-mortar fast food restaurants someday soon, the new-look location will be smaller than the average McDonald's restaurant and only serve takeout. Upon walking inside, customers will find digital kiosks for placing to-go orders. Meanwhile, the exterior parking lot will even offer dedicated parking spots for both curbside pickup and delivery drivers.

"As our customers' needs continue to change, we are committed to finding new ways to serve them faster and easier than ever before," Max Carmona, senior director of global design and restaurant development at McDonald's, said in a statement. Before the pandemic, drive-thru represented 70% of the order for McD's, after the figure is close to 90% for mobile ordering and delivery, and takeout.

The aforementioned order ahead lane will be for arriving customers who placed their orders earlier via the McDonald's mobile app. After reaching a dedicated lane, an employee will confirm the pre-order at a pick-up booth. After that, customers can pick up their food from a nearby conveyor belt.

McDonald's isn't the only major fast-food brand exploring new ways to serve customers faster. Taco Bell opened a gravity-defying location earlier this year in Minnesota featuring four drive-thru lanes that it calls Taco Bell Defy. It also features a Jetson's-like "vertical lift" order delivery system. This sci-fi drive-thru concept redefined what is possible for a drive-thru location.

taco bell defy exterior
Courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell Defy's four lanes can accommodate orders no matter how they're placed as pre-orders, for delivery drivers, and for the traditional drive-thru customer. McDonald's appears to be targeting all these users too, but its design does quite compare to the sleek and futuristic design—and amazing lifts that deliver food from two stories up—that Taco Bell has developed.

Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Chick-fil-A, and Jack in the Box are all getting in on the delivery-only trend, and Burger King experimented with burger pickup lockers two years ago.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John