McDonald’s Guarantees One-Minute Drive-Thru Service or You Get Free Food

McDonald’s is promising to speed up drive-thru service.

In a test program underway at McDonald's, customers will be provided with timers at the drive-thru to control speed of service. Photo: ggoncalves/Flickr

In a test program underway at McDonald’s, customers will be provided with timers at the drive-thru to control speed of service. Photo: ggoncalves/Flickr

Recent reports claim that participating McDonald’s in South Florida are trying out a limited-time 60-second guarantee on weekday lunch orders from noon to 1 p.m. now through August 29.

Drive-thru customers receive timers after they’ve paid for their orders, and then the countdown begins. If the food isn’t ready in one minute or less, the customer will have the opportunity to take a free meal item on a future McDonald’s visit.

It’s absolutely clear why the famous fast-food restaurants chain is giving this idea a shot.

“First and foremost, it’s a way to boost business at lunchtime. While the giants in the fast food world are prominently battling for breakfast customers because more and more Americans are eating out in the morning rather than having cereal at home, lunch remains the marquee meal, attracting 34% of all customer visits,” Time explains.

“Donald’s and the rest of the fast food scene must also contend with Chipotle and other players in the fast casual category, which is really the only part of the chain restaurant industry that’s growing,” the publication adds.

Which is more, the promise of speedy service—a throwback reminiscent of Domino’s old guarantee or pizza delivery in less than 30 minutes—could be just what some consumers need to get them back at the drive-thru.

Recent studies show that in previous years speed of drive-thru services has significantly fell dowm, at least partly because of the constant expanding of menus and it’s more difficult for restaurants to deliver speedy service.

The industry-wide average time at the drive-thru recently rose from 173 seconds to 181 seconds, researchers at QSR Magazine unveiled last fall. (That time total includes the time spent ordering food, as well as any wait before placing an order, neither of which is factored into McDonald’s one-minute guarantee.)

And finally, one more reason for the latest McDonald’s move is its decision to test out this guarantee in extremely limited fashion—one hour only during lunch, Monday to Friday only, in one market only for a few weeks—there’s not much at risk.

At worst, the popular fast-food chain will be giving out coupons for free sandwiches here and there, which all but guarantees the customer will be back in the future. Such freebies also probably mix up customers’ emotions: Instead of grumbling about how long it is taking to get their orders at the drive-thru, they may actually be hoping that the service is slow.

“Over the past time, McDonald’s stock has returned less than 3%. That compares with an average 21% return for restaurant stocks. Part of the problem is that growth is always harder for a big, mature business — and with a market value of $93 billion, McDonald’s is larger than its two biggest rivals — Starbucks and Yum Brands — combined,” Time says.

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