I went through drive-thrus at McDonald’s and Burger King to compare the experiences, and saw why the Golden Arches is still the king of fast food

I visited McDonald’s and Burger King drive-thrus to compare them head to head.
Both chains have relatively fast, efficient drive-thrus, and decent food.
McDonald’s is ahead on adapting to new technology and drive-thru design.

McDonald’s may have the most recognizable drive-thru in the world. I visited once again, this time to compare it to competitor Burger King.

Drive-thrus are key for McDonalds. About 95% of the chain’s nearly 14,000 US locations have drive-thrus, with 25,000 worldwide

Source: Restaurant Dive

They became more important than ever during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sales are still elevated over 2019 levels, CEO Chris Kempczinski told investors in a January 2022 investor call.

Source: Insider

The fast food giant has been proactive about updating drive-thrus with double lanes and new menu boards, along with experimenting with AI in some markets.

Source: Insider

McDonald’s also heavily promotes its app, where customers can order ahead and read a short alphanumeric code to an employee through the speaker.

As of July, McDonald’s had 40 million active app users, likely in part because its app is one of the simplest to use for ordering in the drive-thru.

Source: Associated Press

The Rochester, New York location I visited had two ordering lanes that merged into one line to pay, then moved onto two different windows to pick up food. It moved quickly and smoothly, and seemed to be an efficient use of space on a busy street.

Despite a packed drive-thru, I didn’t have to wait long. I was impressed at how seamlessly everything moved, even with cards having to merge back into one lane.

McDonald’s drive-thru times slowed slightly in 2021, the chain said. It scored around the middle of the group in both the 2020 and 2021 QSR drive-thru studies.

Source: QSR

I ordered a Big Mac, a cheeseburger, fries, and a crispy chicken sandwich to get a good sample of the menu. We had to wait an extra minute at the window, so they gave us a free drink, too.

The crispy chicken came in foil, just like at nearly all the competitors in the chicken sandwich wars.

Though it’s not my favorite one on the market, the crispy chicken sandwich has been a huge winner for McDonald’s.

In April 2021, McDonald’s executives told investors that the sandwiches were selling better than any previous version sold by the company, and about a third of franchisees said in a survey that the sandwiches were selling better than they’d expected.

Source: Insider

The classic cheeseburger is simple and comes wrapped in paper, but it’s a classic for a reason.

It looks tiny in comparison to the other sandwiches, but it’s also less than half the cost at $1.59.

I don’t normally go for the Big Mac, but it’s an impressively hefty sandwich.

McDonald’s has been investing in promoting these classic menu items lately.

The chain cut some lower-selling items in 2020 to focus on efficiency, and now it’s promoting “menu hacks” using the same basic menu items.

Source: Insider

The order came out to $18.20.

Next, I went to Burger King, which has about 28,000 global restaurants, to see how the drive-thru compares.

Source: RBI

Like just about every fast food location, there were signs advertising that Burger King was hiring.

The Burger King that I visited had a more basic layout than McDonald’s.

It had the standard layout of one lane, a window for payment, and a window for getting food.

It did have some modern technology, though, like a digital menu board and screen that shows orders for accuracy.

Similar to my experience at McDonald’s, I didn’t have to wait long at all, but there were far fewer customers at Burger King.

McDonald’s and Burger King tend to jockey around for fastest drive-thru times. In 2020, Burger King was slightly faster in the QSR study, and in 2021 the positions reversed.

Source: QSR

Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, said it would finish updating drive-thrus by mid 2022.

Source: CNN

Burger King hasn’t been as proactive as McDonald’s in updating drive-thrus, but the chain isn’t too far behind. Updates later this year will likely keep them as competitors.

Like at McDonald’s, I ordered a few things from across the menu.

On the whopper I noticed the new rebrand that rolled out last year, incorporating natural colors and a more retro look.

Source: Insider

The Whopper, one of Burger King’s signature items, is a good, classic fast food burger.

I was initially apprehensive about the Ch’King, Burger King’s take on the chicken sandwich, because it looked wet and greasy in the packaging.

I was actually really impressed. The sandwich was good and not overly covered in sauce. It felt more substantial than McDonald’s chicken sandwich.

Burger King has more snack options, like these chicken fries, than McDonald’s, which I can see being a potential draw for afternoon customers between lunch and dinner.

Mozzarella sticks could definitely be a reason to pick Burger King over a rival chain for a midday treat.

The jalapeno cheddar bites were also a winner to me.

I didn’t feel that Burger King’s burger or fries matches up to McDonald’s versions, though.

Burger King has a more expansive menu than McDonald’s does, but they haven’t nailed the basics in the same way the rival chain has.

My order came out to about $24.

Burger King is a decent chain, but I can understand why it hasn’t caught up to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is always a step ahead with drive-thru design, technology, and food.

Burger King isn’t so far behind that it’s impossible to catch up, but I’d be surprised to see that happen any time soon.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Retail, Features, Retail, Business Visual Features, Fast Food, drive thru, McDonald’s, Burger King, RBI, Restaurants

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