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To Win Big, Don’t Grind, Transform


The restaurant industry is in a state of constant transformation, from technology and automation to major shifts in in labor and consumer preferences. Companies large and small are innovating in these areas fast, but it might be the small, scrappy players that really find the next major shift. 

Mike Church, a managing director at Deloitte who works a lot with restaurants, said the next radical transformation won’t come from brands that are trying to push the same old operations to the next level. One just has to look at the drive-thru; it’s been largely the same for decades. The last big innovation in the drive thru was a second ordering window—helpful but not exactly taking advantage of the transformative power of technology.

“Your customer’s smartphone is more powerful than the largest mainframe 50 years ago, but the restaurant drive-thru has remained static,” said Church during the 2018 Restaurant Finance and Development Conference. “And it’s not getting much better, it’s wins like shaving 14 seconds off.” 

But done differently, the drive-thru could be incredibly valuable, and he thinks finding new ways to use it could be a “huge opportunity.” 

There are players doing some interesting things at the intersection of technology and the drive-thru. Wendy’s, for one, is sending DoorDash delivery drivers through the standard drive-thru. But while notable for delivery efforts, it’s not exactly transformational either. 

He used a sailing metaphor to describe how powerful these kind of transformations can be. On a racing sailing ship, there is a position called a grinder, the sailors that are trimming the sails and adjusting them for maximum speed. It’s a brutal position, traditionally requiring some strong arms and constant effort. But in a major sea change (pun intended), a New Zealand sailing team, instead of the traditional arm-powered grinding, they essentially converted bikes staffed with professional bicyclists. The difference in efficiency was incredible. Using the stronger, larger leg muscles meant more power, but it also left those grinders with idle hands to manipulate sails better. With a smaller budget, the New Zealand team crushed its competition by just changing one position that everyone else did the standard way. 

There are many of these opportunities in a restaurant that businesses are overlooking every day or, like the drive-thru, going to great effort for minor competitive advantages. But weaving together burgeoning mobile technology and the drive-thru together is a start. 

“Maybe I just want to preorder some of it, and as I roll in the order is queued up and maybe I can add more,” pondered Church. 

It’s trite to say thinking outside of the box is what leads to transformation, that’s obvious. But as brands fight tooth and nail for another visit or another few seconds off the drive thru time, they need to remember that obvious refrain.

“That’s how the restaurant industry is going to grow,” said Church. 

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About This Blog

The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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