Drive Thru

Catherine and Oliver are off to Ontario for a long, long 20 days. It already seems like forever, and it’s been less than 24 hours. A friend told me about taking his daughter to summer camp for the first time, and coming very close to turning the car around several times on the drive home to go back and get her; now I Understand what he was talking about.

The absence of Catherine and Oliver means a temporary return to the drive thru for me. Not for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, of course (I hope!), but sometimes when it’s 3:00 p.m. and I look up to realize that I’ve forgotten to eat lunch, there’s no choice but to head out in the car, lest low blood sugar result in total paralysis.

If you read QSR magazine — and I do, faithfully, every month — you know that the drive thru has become the heart of the quick service (aka “fast food”) restaurant industry. A good portion of the ads in QSR are for better speaker systems, better timing system, better window systems, and so on.

And in the world of the drive thru, the minute is king. The more customers you can shovel through in a given amount of time, the better you’re doing, both because you’re increasing your revenue per minute, and because customers will gravitate to the drive thru with the fastest service.

It amazes me how much variation in drive thru quality there is here in Charlottetown in this regard.

The undisputed kings of the drive thru universe here on the Island are the D.P. Murphy-controlled TIm Horton’s and Wendy’s restaurants. And the undisputed king of this bunch is the Wendy’s on Grafton Street.

The drive thru at that location is so good it’s scary: it’s very rare that, by the short time it takes to drive from the speaker to the pickup window, your server isn’t waiting, hanging half way out the window, with your order in one hand and the proper change (in various predictive combinations) waiting in the other. And this applies both at 2:00 a.m. and in the middle of the lunch rush.

Contrast this with service at other restaurants — Harvey’s comes to mind — and it’s like Wendy’s is in some other service universe. It’s not unusual to wait for 10 or 15 minutes at other drive thrus, and it’s obvious from the behaviour of the staff that they don’t really give a damn about, well, much of anything, let alone how quickly they get you your food.

I have no idea how Danny Murphy and his staff make this happen. I imagine it’s a combination of good management, good training and good hiring. And the systems to back all that up. I know from talking to people who’ve worked in the industry that even getting one of those three right is difficult, so getting the magical combination of the three honed enough to result in drive thru times of less than a minute is tantamount to a miracle.

In the weeks to come, I know I’ll be experiencing too many of those minute-long waits for my own good.


Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 10, 2002 - 18:00 Permalink

The new A&W drive-in is pretty good too.

Andrew's picture
Andrew on October 11, 2002 - 02:58 Permalink

I have no idea how Danny Murphy and his staff make this happen. I imagine it’s a combination of good management, good training and good hiring. And the systems to back all that up.” And the fact they are about 20 burgers ahead of whats being orderd, meaning the foods been under a heat lamp waiting for you…

Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on October 11, 2002 - 12:55 Permalink

Right on Pete. The Wendy’s drive-through “down east” (that’s by the bridge for you out-of-towners — the Hillsborough Bridge for those OUT OUT of towners) has to be the fastest I’ve ever seen. Even from day one. See, I was used to bringing my shaving kit when I planned a stop at Burger King (they’ve improved a couple of fold in the past 5 years but still lag behind the Jaun de Fuca Plate (google: geological plates) by a small margin.

I will say though that Wendy’s food sometimes has that ‘standing’ taste but I’ll take that happily cuz I’ve never ordered nor expected to see a gourmet meal in a brown bag along with “would you like [plop] some ketchup with that sir?”

However, this is a thinly veiled attempt to have a home-cooked meal for Thanksgiving and I’ll bite. Butterball turkey, savory dressing, brussle sprouts, long grain basmati & wild rice, fresh Island carrots avec marjoram, mashed potatoes with Ellie’s (patentable) gravy, topped off with a slice each of apple pie (from the tree in the back yard) and pumpkin pie made from an orb you will NOT see on University avenue this Halloween. All of that garnished with the echos of 175 year old ghosts and engaging conversation from a scholarship grad student who writes & a burgeoning undergrad scientist, two cats, one dog, and a very very nervous door-mouse.

You’re invited, you know the number to confirm.

Rob MacD's picture
Rob MacD on October 12, 2002 - 15:53 Permalink

I agree with the assesment of efficiency at Grafton Street Wendy’s. Amazing. Simply. And A&W is also on my list of pleasant, fast drive-thru experiences (aren’t they also DP Murphy?). My usual order at the A&W drive-thru was ‘double teen, no lettuce, no tomatoe’. Once when I went through (or thru) after ordering that, I got to the window and the server said “We took your order right, but if it’s alright with you, we’re gonna give you a Papa burger with cheese and bacon. It’s exactly the same as what you ordered, but it costs you less (about 70 cents, I figure). Is that okay?” Yes, it was okay, and it was ready, seemingly, even before I got to the window. Best burger I’ve eaten in a long, long time, too, by the way. Ever since, I order Papa burgers. Service like that is shocking to me, pleasantly.