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How To Have A Pleasant Drive-Thru Experience

Updated on September 14, 2011
Long drive-thru lines at a fast food restaurant near Phoenix, AZ.
Long drive-thru lines at a fast food restaurant near Phoenix, AZ.

Have you ever sat in line in a drive-thru and thought, “What in the world is taking so long?!” Unless the restaurant is incredibly busy or the workers just don’t know what their doing, the reason is probably a customer who isn’t familiar with proper drive-thru etiquette. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure that you’ll never be the idiot holding up the drive-thru and making everyone late.


Never Pull Up To The Window To Order

All drive-thrus have the same basic layout: the speaker box and menu board, and then one or two windows where your money is collected and your food is handed out. Common sense tells you that you must first order your food, then pay, then receive your food. Some people don't seem to understand this concept. They skip right over the speaker box and proceed directly to the window to order. This makes no sense. When someone orders in a drive-thru, the order is started as soon as they finish ordering, before they've even paid. By doing that, your order is ready by the time you pay, and then you're out of there. Super simple and quick! When someone skips the speaker box, it messes everything up. Your order can't be processed and started until you're already at the window, so it takes longer to get what you've ordered! Also, the people behind you who ordered the correct way will have to wait longer for their food that was probably ready before yours was.

If You Have A Large Order, Go Inside

If it's going to take you more than a minute or two to order, you probably shouldn't go through the drive-thru in the first place. I don't mean taking some time to decide what you'd like, that's perfectly acceptable. I mean pulling up to order with a list a mile long. If you're ordering for your entire office or a large family, the drive-thru isn't your best bet. The people behind you more than likely aren't ordering for an entire army, and they'll get frustrated after seeing five bags and three drink trays handed out when they're just waiting for a single item. If you order inside, those who are just there for one or two items can get the few things that they've ordered while your order is being finished.

Never Add On To Your Order At The Window

You've followed the rules so far and you ordered at the speaker box. While pulling up to the window, you decide you need a few more things, so when you get there you ask if you can add something on. No one working a drive-thru window is going to tell you you can't, but believe me, inside, they're irritated. It's the same concept as skipping the speaker box. Your original order is already ready, and most likely the order behind you is too. Now, the entire line is held up because you decided you needed another burger or latte. The proper and polite thing to do is pull around and place a second order, or go inside to place the second part of your order.

It's not a very good idea to change your order at the window either. Pulling up to the window and saying, "I wanted that with no onions," or, "Oh, that was supposed to be iced..." messes the routine up. What you originally ordered will most likely be wasted, and then there's the wait time for your new order. So make sure you order exactly what you'd like at the speaker box, then there will be no wasted time, or wasted food.

Have Your Money Ready At The Window

The reason the employee working the drive thru tells you your total at the speaker box is to speed up the process at the window. If you wait until they ask for your money at the window to unbuckle your seat belt, dig for your wallet, and then count out the exact change, you've just lost everyone a few minutes of their day that they can't get back. So save everyone a few precious seconds and have your money ready at the window. You won't be getting any awards for paying with exact change, so if you're taking forever digging for those last few pennies, save everyone the time and just pay with whatever you've got.

Never Talk On Your Cell Phone While Ordering

It's considered rude to be on your cell phone while ordering anywhere, but since you're not face to face with someone when at a speaker box, people seem to deem it acceptable to use their cell phones in the drive-thru. It's not acceptable. I've worked a drive-thru at a coffee shop, and it's amazing how often the customer will put you "on hold" in order to finish their phone conversation, oblivious to the line forming behind them. What most people don't realize though, is that if you're sitting at that speaker box, anyone inside the restaurant can hear what you're saying. Your entire personal phone call is broadcasted to all of the employees in the store. So, end your conversation before you pull up to the speaker box, or save it for after you've received your order. It'll save you, and everyone else, some time.

Never Order From The Passenger Seat

Drive-thru speaker boxes are not the greatest technology. They can't amplify sound, or translate when you mumble your order. It's hard enough to decipher when the driver orders, but you throw a whole new kink in the system when the passenger orders. It's difficult for the employees to hear when someone orders from that distance, and often results in the order having to be repeated multiple times, then repeated once more by the driver to be heard correctly. Save everyone some time and relay your order to the driver so that they can do the ordering for you.

So, next time you're in a drive-thru...

If you're sitting in the drive-thru waiting for an extended period of time, when you get to the window, don't take your frustration out on the workers. More than likely, they're doing their job to the best of their ability; it's usually the other customers causing the delay.

Have you committed any of these drive-thru faux pas?

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    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      6 years ago from West Virginia

      These are very useful tips. It is different when you work in there people. That drive thru is no easy task. Give respect when it is due. Great tips and well stated.

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