Despite Increasingly Long Wait Times, Chick-Fil-A's Drive-Thru Is Thriving

How can the fast food drive-thru that ranks as the slowest, year after year, consistently score highest in customer service? The answer to this paradox is simple: Because it's Chick-fil-A. Every year, QSR magazine and a research partner conduct a comprehensive, scientific survey of people's drive-thru experiences. The 2021 study is hot off the virtual press, and Chick-fil-A's drive-thru has retained its spot at No. 1 for customer service, according to QSR.

An online survey asked 1,003 respondents to categorize their drive-thru experience at the top 10 fast food chains in America. Was it very friendly, pleasant, average, lackadaisical, or rude? Chick-fil-A's results were truly impressive, with 85.7% of those surveyed saying the drive-thru at the fried chicken chain was very friendly or pleasant. (We can hear all the Chick-fil-A employees saying "my pleasure" from here.) Nobody who took the survey said they encountered a lackadaisical or rude employee at Chick-fil-A. Carl's Jr./Hardees had he next highest customer satisfaction score at the drive-thru, with 79.2% of respondents describing a very friendly or pleasant experience. The fast food outfit that really needs to up its drive-thru game is Wendy's, according to QSR. It scored the lowest with 44.1% in the pleasant-to-very friendly range, and Wendy's had the highest "lackadaisical" score among the top 10 at 26.5%.

One reason why Chick-fil-A drive-thrus are so slow

The super-friendly employees at Chick-fil-A appear to be making up for notoriously long drive-thru times. QSR's 2021 drive-thru speed study showed the Chick-fil-A drive-thru had the slowest time among the fast food top 10, at 9 minutes, 1 second. The second slowest chain was considerably faster than that; Starbucks' drive-thru wait time clocked in at 6 minutes, 49 seconds. The drive-thru that really put the "fast" in fast food in 2021 was Taco Bell: 4 minutes, 28 seconds.

Chick-fil-A wouldn't talk to Business Insider about its slow drive-thrus, but the chain couldn't have been surprised. Chick-fil-A has ranked last in drive-thru speed four years in a row, per Nation's Restaurant News. "They deliver friendly experience every time, and have a cult following," said Lisa van Kesteren, CEO of SeeLevel, the company that partnered with QSR for its 2020 study. "Customers are willing to wait in line for much longer."

That "much longer" applies not only when comparing Chick-fil-A to other chains, but also one year to the next. Per Business Insider, Chick-fil-A's industry-lagging time in 2020 was 8 minutes, 9 seconds — almost a minute quicker than this year. In 2019, Chick-fil-A was still last but moved customers through its drive-thru at a relatively brisk 5 minutes, 23 seconds.

Chick-fil-A's are so crazy-busy, they might not be able to do much to improve the long drive-thru times. The average Chick-fil-A location makes four times as much money in a year as a typical Starbucks (via QSR).