- Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru lines are longer than ever during the pandemic, creating problems.
- The chain has workers taking orders via iPad, and has introduced canopies and coats for outdoor employees.
- Chick-fil-A is taking the pressure off drive-thrus with delivery, new locations, and ghost kitchens.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Chick-fil-A is an undisputed drive-thru expert.
The chicken chain’s prowess is so well-known that, when a South Carolina town was facing a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine site disaster, authorities called the manager at the local Chick-fil-A.
However, Chick-fil-A is dealing with more and more pressure to keep the crowds moving. The chain faced four lawsuits in 2020 over its massive drive-thru lines, Insider found. Average wait times reached eight minutes and eight seconds, minutes longer than competitors like McDonald’s and KFC.
Still, Chick-fil-A is working hard to match new challenges with fresh innovation. The company said in a statement to Insider that it has “teams dedicated to constantly innovating and testing new ways to elevate the guest and Team Member experience and improve efficiency in the drive-thru.”
“Because we are always investing in this work, our local franchise Operators were able to act quickly at the onset of the pandemic to adapt to the pressures caused by closing our dining rooms,” the statement continued.
Here are six techniques the chicken chain is using to stay on top of the drive-thru game.
The classic drive-thru involves customers pulling up to a speaker, ordering, then pulling up to a second window to collect food.
Not so at Chick-fil-A. The chain stands out from the drive-thru crowd in large part thanks to its workers with iPads who take orders from cars even before they reach the window. At Chick-fil-A, ordering and delivery are “zones,” not set locations.
However, these changes can make workers’ jobs harder.
“I’ve been out 3.5 hours on meal delivery when it was 10 degrees or less,” one 21-year-old employee at a Chick-fil-A in the Midwest told Insider. “We couldn’t see the end of our parking lot because of how thick this storm was. I had literal chunks of ice in my hair.”
New uniforms for workers in the heat and the snow
Chick-fil-A is doing everything it can to make these workers more comfortable, while keeping drive-thrus running smoothly.
The company provides workers with different uniforms for various conditions, including a sunhat for bright Georgia summers and a winter coat for chilly Michigan winters. This winter, the chain rolled out new winter apparel, including gloves and weatherproof boots.
Sometimes, a new uniform is not enough. That’s when the weather pod comes in — a neon yellow and look almost like a combination of a small tent and a crossing guard’s vest.
Many people are “uncomfortable or too prideful,” to wear the pods, according to an Indiana Chick-fil-A employee. However, he said it has some advantages.
“It keeps us dry, keeps iPads dry, blocks out the wind, and makes it more tolerable,” the employee told Insider.
Employees taking customers’ orders via FaceTime
Recently, a TikTok went viral showing what appeared to be a Chick-fil-A employee “working from home.” (In fact, the company said, she was inside the Chick-fil-A location’s office.)
The video shows customers placing orders with a Chick-fil-A worker, who is speaking with them virtually via tablet.
Chick-fil-A confirmed to Insider that this is essentially a tech-savvy twist on having workers walk out to take orders. The tablet allows customers to see workers face-to-face, without having to wait for them to reach the actual building.
“Some restaurants are using this during extreme weather as another measure to protect Team Members and/or for additional social distancing during COVID,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement. “It allows the Team Member to stay inside, while still offering guests the friendly customer experience of a smiling Team Member.”
Heated canopies and shelters
Some restaurants in areas with more extreme weather have heated canopies or other shelters, providing workers with protection from the cold, heat, and rain.
“Our local franchise Operators are committed to caring for their Team Members and taking measures to keep them safe, including: offering frequent breaks, providing PPE, wellness checks and hand-washing stations throughout the pandemic as well as parkas, gloves and boots in cold weather and UV-protected clothing, sun-shades and misters in warm weather,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement.
New stores and more ways to order
Chick-fil-A has rolled out mobile order and pay, which can reduce time in the drive-thru line. Curbside pickup can also alleviate crowds. Delivery is now widely available nationwide through third-party delivery partners such as Uber Eats and — at several hundred restaurants — Chick-fil-A restaurant workers, according to the company.
Credit Suisse analyst Lauren Silberman said that one way Chick-fil-A can address the crowds is simply by building more locations nearby, or providing new ways to order food.
That includes ghost kitchens, or kitchens that exclusively make Chick-fil-A for delivery customers. A few years ago, Chick-fil-A quietly started working with ghost kitchen startup Kitchen United to fulfill these orders.