You’re late, in a rush…lazy… whatever the reason, you duck into the McDonald’s drive-thru for a quick food stop. Zip in zip out.
The beauty of the drive-thru is just that, you zip in and you zip out, in less than 5 minutes you have your meal and you’re on your way again.
You pull up to the ordering window. Which isn’t a window any more, it’s a screen with a microphone and speaker, no problem. You may not be in rush, but whether you are or not, you feel the pressure.
Hi how can I help you?
Comes a voice from the speaker as soon as you arrive. And my usual response?
Uhh, one second please.
What do I feel like today ? What’s new on the menu? Any “healthy” options? What did I have last time? Wow, there are a lot of options. That looks interesting. I better hurry, there are cars waiting behind me. The car in front has already moved on. Quick, what do I feel like? Beef? Chicken? Bacon? Chips? Hurry up!
Can I help you?
Comes the voice only 10 seconds later.
One second please!
Scan scan scan scan scan scan. The attendant cannot see my eyes darting around like a crazy person. And they cannot see my perplexed look as my brain tries to quickly make a decision that will satisfy my hunger. So they ask again, ‘can I help you?’. Geez, how annoying!
There are several problems with the drive-thru service, let’s look at two.
Firstly, it’s information overload. Too many options with too little perceived time. That’s a bad combination. Whether it’s real or perceived, it doesn’t matter. It’s bad design. Just look at the menu above. There are too many options, and it is not organised in a flowing manner either. Invariably my response to the attendant ends up being:
Uhh Big Mac meal with a coke thanks!
So much for trying something different. This is the result of a badly designed service, ie. the drive-thru service, and the menu that is part of that service. The menu is not fit for purpose. Inside the store, where people have more ‘time’, sure, load it up with options. But in a time-poor situation, not so good. The challenge here is to come up with a balance. Get the balance wrong, and you aren’t really giving your customers options…perhaps that is the intention. If it is, then that’s actually good design, hahaha.
In the above image, the first menu is basically useless, everybody drives straight past it. That menu should be used to highlight the latest new thing, or whatever they are trying to push that week. Basically it’s an advertisement. Just a flash, no fine text.
The second issue with the drive-thru is that the attendant cannot actually see me, they can only hear me (or not hear me). Therefore they do not know if I am still deciding, or whether their speaker or microphone are simply malfunctioning. Hence the prompt every 10 seconds, “can I help you?” (because nobody can stand silence).
If they could see my face, they would see that I’m thinking, and hopefully they would give me more time.
The drive-thru is a tricky situation, different to the in-store situation, and there in lies the challenge.
Utilising existing food serving techniques perhaps is not the best option then for the drive-thru scenario. When designing for new situations, or different situations, sometimes it is best to start from scratch. I believe this is the problem with the drive-thru experience, it is a Frankenstein of traditional food serving techniques assembled to service a situation with is not “traditional”, and hence it falls short of satisfaction.
So who’s up for the challenge?
CitizenRod is an entrepreneur, industrial designer, artist, and thinker. Follow his design commentary on Medium, his artwork at rodrigoantoniomunoz.com, and his startup at Maate.it.
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