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The Dos and Don'ts of Drive Thru Etiquette

Updated on June 18, 2018
shanmarie profile image

Shannon sometimes has a quirky sense of humor. Sometimes she shares it with the world. :)

Fast food workers and drive thru clerks tend to get a bad rap. You know it and I know it. But that’s not to say that they can’t have a little fun from time to time. Somewhere in between all of the order-taking, food prep, dish-washing, general chores, and handing your food out the window there is occasionally time for a quick joke. These poor workers deserve it. It’s not as if they get paid near enough for all the effort that goes into their job. Sometimes a good belly laugh is payment enough for the moment, and I am willing to bet that you didn’t know your behavior and antics often become the butt of the joke. Did you?

Please keep in mind that the immediate reaction is not always laughter. You could be receiving a silent verbal bashing spoken only in your cashier’s mind - until the time comes to vent to another coworker, that is. Also, it might be a good idea to remember that when you speak to the order box in a drive thru, you are not just speaking to one individual. Chances are, there are at least two other people on the other side of that speaker listening to the entire conversation taking place as you order. Don’t think they don’t throw their two cents in behind the scenes.

So just in case you’re wondering what kinds of behavior qualify as distasteful drive thru etiquette, take a look at the list of dos and don’ts below. Are you guilty of any similar behavior? Witnessed it from someone else? Or maybe you’ve been a drive thru worker and you have a tale or two of your own to share? Feel free to leave your thoughts below. Now let’s get started.

Do You Want Fries With That?

Whatever You Do, DON'T

Don’t Be a Pervert

Be careful who you try to flirt with. Compliments such as, “You have a pleasant voice” may be appreciated by some (especially women), but not all compliments are actually compliments. For instance, why would you tell someone they sound like a phone sex operator? Also, comments like, “You sound so good over that speaker, darlin’” should probably be avoided. Some dirty old men are in for a nasty shock when they get to the cash window and find a rather burly young man waiting to take the cash. You never really know, do you? Voices can sometimes be deceiving. Not to mention, the person at the window may not be the one taking the order. Best keep your perverted thoughts to yourself.

Don’t Go Through the Drive Thru Drunk or High

It may seem like a good idea to grab a quick bite to eat after a night of partying. After all, what could possibly go wrong? You have the munchies and your aim is satiate that hunger. The aim of the cashier is to get your money. You can bet your order the cashier will make suggestions you can’t resist. Your silly little jokes will be ignored because, well, you are the joke this time. There is nothing funny about trying to order a fictional item that does not exist anywhere on this planet. Oh yeah, there’s also nothing funny about your goat noises. Well, except maybe for the way it embarrasses the only sober person in your car. Congratulations, you taught someone not to be a designated driver!

Don’t Throw a Fit Over Three Cents

Once a transaction is completed, a register drawer usually cannot be opened without having to first get a manager with keys. If your cashier accidentally shorts you a few cents just get over it. That’s right. Get over it. How many pennies have you passed over lying around on the ground? How many have you dropped and not bothered to pick up? Does it really make sense to hold up the entire line over a few pennies? Besides, if you’re really that cheap, what are you doing buying a $7 burger?

Don’t Wrinkle Your Nose Over a Wrinkled Dollar

If you can’t handle a wrinkled dollar bill you better not ever accidentally leave one in your pants when you do laundry. Or better yet, get yourself an iron to smooth out all those wrinkles your stress over nothing must be causing you. No, your cashier is not worried about the pitiful dollar handed to you. No, the cashier will not worry about giving it to the customer in line behind you. In fact, when the poor worn out dollar bill is being passed out the window to the next customer it will go with an explanation as to why the line has not moved in minutes. Yes folks, that’s right. It has nothing to do with slow food preparation this time. It is because the gentleman in front of you made the cashier get him a new dollar bill before he would move forward. Yes, that involved having to get a manager who was in the middle of helping out during the lunch rush. So sorry.

Don’t Call the Store to Cuss About the Wait

If you are ever in a drive thru and you find yourself a little miffed at the long lines and long wait time, it is okay to call and ask to speak to a store manager in order to have a complaint addressed. However, you might think twice. When there are only two people working a Starbucks store in a college town with some event happening and you make the wait even longer because the cashier is on the phone with you instead of making drinks and taking cash. When you get to the window still cussing and yelling, you may find yourself being yelled at right back. As you drive away without so much as an apology, an explanation, or a complimentary drink for the inconvenience, remember that it was your choice to wait in line long enough to place your order in the first place. When the inside is packed full and the drive thru is wrapped around the building, there’s only so much two people can do. Go ahead and tell the manager how rude your cashier was, chances are the manager already knows what happened.

Don’t Complain to the Cashier About Your Sticker Shock

Highway robbery! Oh my gosh, how dare we! And yet here you are, at the window paying for your food. Yes, your order was repeated back to you correctly. Yes, that is how much it costs for whatever it is you ordered. No, the cashier does not set the price nor does the manager. There may be a small explanation such as market value and corporate versus franchise fees. But is that really any consolation to you? Either you feel the food is worth the price or you don’t and you decline to eat there. It’s really that simple. No need to give the cashier a lecture. It will just go in one ear and straight out the other.

Don’t Stop a Mile Away From the Window

Hang on there. Don’t go out of your way now to stretch for your food. You know, since it is your fault that you parked five feet away from the window. Oh my! Did the drink accidentally land in your lap? Perhaps if the cashier’s feet would’ve been planted firmly on the ground this unfortunate accident would not have occurred, but it’s hard to stand firm when stretching way out the window.

Don’t Be a Litterbug

Your trash is for the birds. Literally. They come around and they eat food crumbs. Nothing wrong with that. Until they eat something they should not, that is. Or until they hang around in crowds, knowing the food is plentiful, and leave some presents on your windshield. Oh and by the way, dumping your old drinks out in the driveway is not a good idea, especially a red soda. Your leftover strawberry Fanta will leave the drive looking like an animal murder scene. The bird should’ve looked both ways before crossing the road.

Don’t Blow Smoke

Keep your cigarettes and whatever else the hell you feel like smoking inside your car. Better yet, don’t light up when you know you will be interacting with other people who may not smoke. Nothing makes a person want to send you on your way with or without your food faster than a mouthful of your hot air! Oh yes, that is mouthful. It’s hard not to inhale that secondhand smoke through the mouth when a person has to lean out the window to talk. Just think before you exhale. About the wind. About the way your turn your face. Those cancer sticks belong in your ashtray of a car and nowhere else.

By All Means, Do These Things

Do Stay Until You Have Your Total

Wait for the person taking your order to confirm your total. Otherwise, don’t blame the cashier or the cooks for screwing it all up. Oh sure, you’ll be tempted to blame them for not taking your order correctly. But ask yourself if they were still talking when you impatiently pulled away. Yeah, there’s a reason for that unfortunate mishap.

Do Understand That It Is Sometimes Hard to Hear You

Try to have a sense of humor when the person taking your order cannot understand what you are saying. Yes, it’s a pain to repeat yourself, but do you really want a large Sprite instead of a large fry? Or an egg and tomato breakfast taco instead of an egg and potato one? Misunderstandings, although funny, still cost money.

Do Put Your Cell Phone Away

By the way, the people with a headset on can hear every word you utter even before someone speaks a word to you. When you argue amongst yourselves in the car. Or when you profess your undying love to someone who could not possibly care any less. . .you aren’t alone when you’re at a drive thru speaker with your window rolled down. And when you roll to the window still jabbering away on your phone, know that it’s terribly impolite. That smirk you receive from the cashier is not a half-hearted attempt at being polite to you; it’s an acknowledgement of your rudeness.

Do Turn Off Your Loud Truck Engines

Remember how you’re not supposed to get upset that the cashier can’t hear you? Well, keep that particular bit of advice in mind when you either forget or refuse to turn off your loud knocker. Put your old clunker in a junk yard maybe. Or perhaps turn your big diesel engine off for a minute or so. Someone’s ears will thank you for the favor. Otherwise, the ringing may interfere with the successful completion of your order.

Do Say Something, Anything

When you sit there like a bump on a log and say nothing at all, the cashier has to wonder who placed the order? This person with the strangely robotic movements cannot possibly be the person. No polite small talk. No utterance of sound whatsoever. Bring the bun oil, hurry! The Tin Man needs an oil job!

Do a Kindness

Do a kindness and don’t be a jackass. It’s already been established that the cashier often takes the blame for quite a bit: high prices, an order taken correctly that was made incorrectly, misunderstanding something a customer says, the long lines, the long wait - the list goes on. Never forget that when you go blaming the cashier for things that are not solely his or her fault and, in fact, may also be the fault of other customers in line much like yourself, your face becomes a blurry vision of a horse’s backside. On the flip-side, if you want to make someone smile, pay a compliment. Or simply pay it forward. Why not pay for the person in line behind you, too?

Do Keep Your Hands to Yourself

No one really wants to shake your greasy, oil stained hand after you’ve been working on cars all day. No one is attracted to your long, overgrown, unkempt fingernails either. Please, for the love or yourself, cut them! And never ever sneeze or cough into your hands before fishing your money out of your wallet.

Do Go Fully Clothed

Hey, has anyone ever told you that you should not go out in public only half dressed? It may be considered socially acceptable in some situations for a male to go without a shirt on, but even while going through drive thru,you’re still at a restaurant. It’s a public place of dining, for Heaven’s sake. But if you still insist on showing off your body, at least be sure that you have the proper build for it first. No scrawny skeletons, young or old, please. And women, you should probably think about the kinds of shirts you wear. Remember that the person taking your money and handing you your food is not on the same level as you. Leaning out the window provides a direct view down your shirt. That’s not always the most attractive view either. Save yourself some embarrassment ladies, even if its.

Do Use a Fully Functioning Car

Why? Seriously, someone please explain why you bother to go through a drive thru when your windows do not roll down at all or when your vehicle sounds as if it could sputter and die before you finish placing your order. Wouldn’t it be easier to go inside? Surely it would.

© 2018 Shannon Henry


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    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      You and your angels for everyone. That makes me smile.

      As for things being said, I was telling a coworker just today about something a particular customer said to me that would've totally left me blushing speechless in my younger days and shocked me even now to the point of not having anything snappy to say put him in his place. Not even a polite discouragement to the flirtation attempts like I usually offer. It was a much more daring comment than he's ever made to me before and I was like "Okay. . .". I mean, this comment could go down as one of the worst and most inappropriate pick up lines in history. Pretty sure the man is harmless, but c'mon, ya know?

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from North Central Florida

      Yes m' covered this well. I was a waitress between my sophomore and junior years of college and some of the things that were said to this little country girl who lead a very sheltered life would make a grown woman blush. Well said. Angels on the way pps

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      That's one thing I've never been, Jackie! You're right, though, and the least we can all do is be nice.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      2 years ago from the beautiful south

      Brings back the days for most of us who were waitresses, short as that time may have been! As a whole, not a lot of good memories! A hard job for little pay and the least anyone can do is be nice.

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Good to see you, MsDora. It happens quite often, mostly with windows that don't roll down. I'm curious about where you live now.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Learned a lot which will come in handy if I ever become a drive thru customer. Good and funny about the malfunctioning car.

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      I had a guy drive away before I finished repeating his order back to him and then yelled at the guy giving his drinks and order out to him at the other window. . .because I didn't upsize his meal. I had to laugh out loud about it because the poor kid tried to relay the message to me in a more polite manner....but basically, I was told to clean the shit out of my ears and then maybe I would get an order right. There have been others who want to tell me things like shut the "F" up and listen if they feel I'm asking too many questions or something....They want to argue if they feel like I didn't do the order their way, even though I'm doing it cheaper for them or just trying to clarify for the cooks and the people putting their meal together. Some things sound obvious, but aren't necessarily. And sometimes people think they mean one thing and they said another. People are like, "Isn't that what I just said?" Well. . .yes, and no. LOL.

      Oh Gosh, I know that it can happen - but I prefer not think of anyone every spitting in food. That's SOOO disgusting. Plus, there are video cameras everywhere and customers inside can see into the kitchen. I'd like to think it doesn't happen all that often. Bad enough thinking about when things fall on the floor and still get used....things like that.. I just try not to think like that whenever I eat out!

      But I can tell you that I know someone who once took some food to a customer dining in in a take out bag because it was late night and they didn't want to keep washing trays for just a few customers. This customer made such a big deal about the food not being brought out on a tray that the worker went and got a tray, then proceeded to dump the food unceremoniously out of the bag onto the tray and said, "There. Now it's on a tray." So, yeah, I guess the workers can be quite obnoxious in return if pushed to it. ...Not that I recommend that. LOL

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Sorry, Eric, but I did not follow your thoughts here in regards to a drive thru setting. I assume you're talking about the appearance thing in regards to how people dress in public? Normally, I couldn't care less. Except when I get very unflattering views!

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      LOL! I used to tell people that being a cashier is dangerous work! Banged myself up quite often. Same thing a drive thru setting. Usually jam my hands or fingers on the window latch when I go to open it or cut myself somehow doing dishes, usually with the steel wool rather than a knife.

      As for that video you watched, sounds a little too familiar. That guy that called the store to yell, was pretty bat shit crazy himself! Yelling and cussing at the top of his lungs. . .It's one of the few times I actually lost my temper with a customer and yelled back at him as he drove away. I told him that I'd tell the manager myself! One of the mangers was the only other person working with me, anyway. LOL. Actually, it's the only time I ever really lost my temper with a customer I was dealing with. In other circumstances, the customer called my behavior rude. . .but it was a direct result of not wanting to deal with their behavior and I was actually rather calm about it. Things just didn't go their way so they complained some more. Luckily, that's when I'm glad I'm not a manager and someone else can tell them the same thing I just did and deal with the behavior instead. LOL

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Peace to you as well!

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Rude behavior is everywhere, unfortunately, and it is seen all too often in any line of customer service. Most of the time, I just ignore the rude behaviors.

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      LOL. It certainly helps! People don't realize that sounds are amplified on the headset. Passing emergency vehicle sirens in the background sound close, loud birds screeching, noises inside of things like pans dropping on the floor, truck engines. . .Although, I don't think it's as big of an issue at the window as it is over the speaker. Never hurts to be sure you're heard, though! LOL

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Hi Manatita,

      I worked at Starbucks back when I was in college. That was an actual experience. I would have offered a free drink or two, but he drove off after waiting in line until he got to the window just to yell at me some more.

      All of these are true experiences, actually. I do currently work in a fast food restaurant that is popular in Texas. I must be a little too good at my job because they usually have me run the drive thru taking orders. If they try to put me on another station to start the day, I usually end up right back taking orders in drive. It can actually be quite amusing sometimes. Sometimes stressful, but it's either find a sense of humor or be grumpy myself. LOL

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I will never forget as a kid I worked at MC Donald's handing out the food. Apparently the order taker got a customers order wrong. Well this customer had driven off, found out her order wasn't right, and drove back to cuss me out. I was shocked my only thought was "lady I didn't take the order, why are you yelling at me?"

      Needless to say I always try to be considerate when I order food through a fast food place. Also, consider they can and will spit in your food if you are too obnoxious.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Love it. We do not do too good about that around here. We are kind of low end trailer park with no ethnic living next to the same ethnic.

      My mom freaked me out about appearance and communication. Very fun reflections here.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      2 years ago from Carson City

      I recently watched the most outrageous You Tube video. A woman went totally ballistic at a McDonal'd drive-thru. I mean, literally Bat $hit CRAZY. She ordered McNuggets at 10:30 in the morning. Was told they don't serve nuggets during the breakfast shift. OMG...all hell broke loose. She screamed and out of her car and began throwing punches at the window employee, continuing to shriek at the top of her lungs.....the Manager shut the window so she reached into her car to grab something and smashed the window! The entire thing was surreal!

      Looks like the drive-thru position is one hell of a job! Those people deserve hazardous duty pay!! LOL

    • manatita44 profile image


      2 years ago from london

      Interesting role! Peace!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      People can be so boorish in their behavior. I see it all the time. It's possible that when I was younger I could have worked a drive-through lane, but not now that I'm older. I just can't handle rude behavior of any sort.

    • abwilliams profile image

      A B Williams 

      2 years ago from Central Florida

      I think this is a subject that we can all relate to shanmarie, we all have our drive-thru stories.

      My husband drives a truck with a diesel engine, so we have to cut the engine twice, once for ordering and again at the window (well...we don’t have to, but we ‘Do’)

    • manatita44 profile image


      2 years ago from london

      An enjoyable piece, written in a give-it-to-them; sock-it-to-them style. Great pointers for many. Nice one, Shannon. You work there?

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Oh my gosh, that must be a really big dog! As for the burger, I thought the triple meat burgers were a bit excessive. This one sounds like an immediate heart attack on a bun!

      P.S. I've seen people order burgers for their dogs, too. Happens quite frequently, actually. My mother-in-law used to have a dog that recognized the McDonald's arches. He was picky about what he ate, too.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      If he could order, it would be at a local drive-in that has a burger called "16 Tons on a Bun".

    • shanmarie profile imageAUTHOR

      Shannon Henry 

      2 years ago from Texas

      LOL. Chris, your dog is probably telling you what he wants to eat. Don't forget to listen closely to him, too!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Very funny and enlightening. It's only me and my dog in the car when I pull up to the speaker at a fast food place. I'll be keeping my mouth shut before ordering. Yes, I talk to the dog. Nobody listens like a dog.


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