Eliminating drive-through lines for busy commuters
Customers lose 4+ minutes per drive-through visit
Drive-through wait times and fulfillment errors increase every year, decreasing customer satisfaction and allowing unnecessary pollution via idling. Usual addresses drive-through overcrowding with the goal of implementing a lasting solution to eliminate drive-through idling.
End-to-end Product Design
For drive-through customers, this is just a stop along the way.
Through observation and contextual inquiry, I identified three core user goals: staying comfortable, getting their desired items, and reliably getting where they're going (e.g., making it to work on time). While walk-ins can immediately see their donut in the display case and estimate order wait times based on line-ups and busy employees, drive-through customers are met with a brick wall. This uncertainty contributes to mounting frustration and anxiety when paired with the expectation of fast service.
Can we increase sales volume in a heavily strained primary channel?
Research participants aren't always able to articulate their needs and goals, so when 35% explicitly demand tangible improvements to ordering and pickup, clearly there's a problem. On top, quick-service restaurants' margins are thin, so they must rely on sales volume. The huge rise of loyalty programs signals to me that, while they must work to some degree, restaurants might be also be avoiding the core issue.
Employees cannot fulfill orders faster than customers can place them
Why do drive-through line-ups occur in the first place? After mapping out the system, it became clear that the bottleneck lies in order placement being quick and easy, while fulfillment takes much longer than the time it takes to drive up to the window. This creates the extended wait times that are amplified by order complexity, the number of customers in line, and fulfillment errors that require rectification.
Ideation & wireframe
How might we help commuters place orders while driving?
A way for customers to place their orders ahead of time would certainly solve the problem as it would both provide employees with more preparation time and reduce on-site ordering. I initially thought of mobile apps. But existing solutions were primarily designed for delivery and lacked the necessary ease-of-use for customers who are on-the-go and unable to spend time typing and swiping through menus.
Sam's typical morning coffee journey involved a busy schedule with limited opportunities for interacting with a mobile app using touch. The only feasible order window for Sam was when she had her attention free after dropping her kids off at school, while driving to work. The only reasonable solution was a voice app that enabled hands-free ordering.
Design requirements & Flow
How does Sam's mental model affect system organization?
The app should skip or automate as much of the order process as possible since Sam is driving and therefore has limited attention and memory. To do this, I focused in on a few key design requirements relative to Sam's goals:
- Provide information BEFORE ordering - Sam wants to decide whether or not to order based on expected time costs and item availability
- Overall trip integration - If Sam wants Starbucks, she doesn't really care which Starbucks she orders from or stops at so long as it's the fastest stop relative to where she's going.
- Resolve order issues BEFORE arrival - If Sam arrives to pick-up and there's an issue that requires her sandwich being remade, she's back to square one: waiting 4 minutes for her order to be fulfilled.
🗸 High contrast
In early iterations, I zeroed in on the minimalist UI with a high-contrast black and white palette. The primary issue was the sizing and readability - the chat UI designed to help you keep track of where you are in the system wasn't so useful if you couldn't read it at an arms-length.
Skip the line.
Arrive on time.
Usual leverages voice interaction to allow busy commuters to order in advance while driving, increasing fulfillment time for employees, and thereby eliminating line-ups over time.
Obviously, I would not expect immediate widespread adoption, so, many customers would continue clogging the drive-through by ordering in person. But, I do believe that the product is a significant enough improvement to ordering and pick-up that the channel would surpass the drive-through's usage in time. This would ultimately eliminate line-ups and therefore give the 4 minutes per visit back to the user.
Many sales are lost due to slow service and regular preparation and fulfillment errors. This is unavoidable when employees are perpetually rushing to fulfill 5-minute orders in 30 seconds. Having given QSR employees adequate fulfillment time to accommodate seamless and error-free pick-up, QSR businesses should expect to see substantial increases in sales volume, customer retention, and customer satisfaction over time.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy estimate that personal vehicles generate around 30 million tons of CO2
every year just by idling1
. I can't say what percentage drive-through idling comprises, but even if 1 million tons of CO2 pollution are eliminated annually,
that would be a huge win (equivalent to eliminating 216,000 cars off the road).
Less research, more design
Initially, I leaned a little too heavily into my psychology background and research skills, conducting various interviews, inquiries, surveys, market research, competitor research, and more. In doing so, I only overcomplicated things. In hindsight, my first user interviews were more than enough and informed 80% of the design requirements in 20% of the time. I could have spent that extra time iterating and testing!
Know when to break the rules
The project started in a course where I was taught to create all of the classic UX deliverables. Only some made sense for the project. I got a little bit stuck on wireframing because the design necessitated just one main screen within minimal touch interactions. Standardized processes are helpful guides, but following them too closely isn't the best idea when creating a non-standard product.
Efficient interface design
When I started, I wasn't so familiar with auto-layout, column grids, and 8px nudges when I started this project. I certainly wasted a lot of time designing without these tools, so they have been a welcomed boost to the efficiency of my UI design workflow. Thank you YouTube and public design systems!