Few businesses are as obsessed with efficiency as fast food restaurants.
Time is of the essence when it comes to moving customers through the lines. And fast food restaurants are on the leading edge of technologies designed to do so.
All of the major chains are piloting drive-through lanes connected to remote call centers, where agents take orders and relay the information back to restaurants where the food is prepared. Sounds convoluted, right? The thing is, it's not.
Orders are processed more quickly at restaurants using these systems, not to mention more efficiently -- thanks no doubt to the fact that they aren't being taken by a headset-wearing employee tasked with doing 12 other things behind the counter.
Fast food restaurants are also among the leading-edge adopters of contactless payment, again in the pursuit of speed. McDonald's is a leader here, following its highly successful acceptance of debit cards earlier this decade.
Though fast food had long resisted letting customers use plastic because of worries it would cause delays, just the opposite occurred. Accepting debit shaved seven seconds off of transactions, allowing McDonald's to serve 1.6 million more customers in 2004 than in 2003.
Perhaps not coincidentally, 2004 also marked the burger giant's biggest sales increase in 17 years. Now almost all fast food eateries accept plastic, in drive-through lanes as well as in stores.
A number of chains are also testing self-service kiosks that let fast food customers order and pay for meals with no employee assistance. This concept is not only about speed but about reducing headcount, a coveted goal in an industry where employee performance and turnover are major problems.