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Sorry for the wait: Drive-thrus are slower, mixing up more orders this year, study shows

How does your favorite restaurant rank when it comes to order accuracy and speed?
Chick-fil-A drive thru
Chick-fil-A employees take orders from customers lined up in the drive-thru line. A 2021 SeeLevel HX report on restaurant drive-thrus found that service times are slower compared with last year. Data also show customer orders were less accurate. (Craig Kohlruss |

If you find yourself waiting longer at the drive-thru only to end up with something other than what you ordered, you’re not alone, according to a new study.

A 2021 SeeLevel HX report on fast-food drive-thrus found that service times are slower this year, and customer orders are less accurate. Comparing​ 2020 and 2021, the average speed of service ​increased from 356.8 seconds (about 6 minutes) to 382.39 seconds, or 25.59 seconds slower.

Inaccurate or incomplete orders were also more common and tacked on 71 seconds to customers’ total wait time, according to the report.

For the study, SeeLevel HX analyzed 1​,492 drive-thru stops at some of America’s favorite fast-food restaurants,​ including Arby’s, Chick-​fil-A and McDonald’s, as well as seven others. Mystery shoppers visited drive-thrus between July and early August and asked for orders that included a hot sandwich, drink, side item and a special request.

About​ 85% of visits ended with the correct food order, and order mix-ups jumped from 13% to 15%, data shows​. When asked about speed of service, 30% of respondents said their order came out faster than expected​,​ while 19% reported longer-than-expected wait times.

The SeeLevel HX report found that restaurants with order confirmation boards, or OCBs, delivered food an average of 34 seconds faster on total time and were also more accurate.

So which restaurants got the most orders right?

Chick-fil-A took the stop spot for order accuracy, data shows​, with Taco Bell ​second. Arby’s, Burger King and Carl’s Jr. ​tied for third​.

The report also looked at restaurants’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the use of face masks among employees. Overall, customers said Carl’s Jr. had the highest mask usage (83%) of the 10 restaurant brands visited, while Hardee’s had the lowest (39%), data shows​.

Lastly, popular restaurants were ranked by the tastiness of their main entree. Here’s how they stacked up:

  1. Chick-fil-A
  2. Arby’s
  3. Taco Bell
  4. McDonald’s
  5. KFC
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