I went to Dunkin’ and Starbucks to compare their drive-thrus, and I’m convinced they’re after totally different customers

dunkin donuts covid drive thru mask
A Dunkin’ worker hands a coffee out of a drive-thru window wearing gloves and a mask as the Coronavirus continues to spread on March 17, 2020 in Norwell, Massachusetts.

  • I went to Dunkin’ and Starbucks to compare their drive-thru experiences.
  • Dunkin’ has more drive-thrus in the US than Starbucks and is consistently one of the fastest.
  • Starbucks has longer wait times but is adding double lanes and new tech.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Drive-thrus have become increasingly important for fast food and quick-service restaurants over the last year.

Starbucks barista drive thru COVID
Starbucks drive-thru.

Drive-thrus have been up industry-wide because they are perceived as a “safe way to use the brand” Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider. 

Fast-food chains have invested in drive-thru technology over the last few years, especially as customers showed that they prefer drive-thrus to other ways of ordering.

taco bell drive thru
A Taco Bell employee delivers an order to a customer at the drive-up window of the restaurant on March 31, 2020.

According to an Allegra Survey, 63% of respondents prefer to get their coffee through a drive-thru over going inside.

On-the-go orders, meaning drive-thru and pickup orders, made up 80% of Starbucks orders prior to the pandemic, Starbucks told Insider, and increased more than 10% over pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2021.

I decided to visit both drive-thrus to better understand the chains’ strategies.

Starbucks drive-thru
Starbucks drive-thru.

I frequently buy drinks from both Starbucks and Dunkin’, although I don’t really directly compare them in my mind.

I went to a Dunkin drive-thru in a building that was once a car wash.

DD drive thru

Dunkin’ has more drive-thrus than any other coffee chain in the US, with nearly 6,400 according to Allegra World Coffee Portal. About two-thirds of all US locations include a drive-thru.

This location has a typical drive-thru setup, with a menu board and speaker where customers can order.

DD drive thru

I ordered ahead on the Dunkin’ app for convenience, and because I wanted to compare the experience between the two.

I visit this location frequently, and there usually a few cars in line at any given time.

DD drive thru

Most of the building area is devoted to the drive-thru, while the actually Dunkin’ itself is fairly small. It seems like most people go through the drive-thru, and fewer actually go inside.

After ordering and giving my name at the speaker, the line moves through the covered waiting area.

DD drive thru

Dunkin’ has some of the fastest drive-thru times in the industry, coming in second place in 2016 and 2018, and winning the category in 2019.

Despite winning the top spot, Dunkin’ wait times were up 20 seconds over the previous year. The chain says it is adding On-the-Go drive-thru lanes to let customers with mobile orders bypass the rest of the drive-thru line.

My coffee, sandwich, and donut were all ready quickly. Within only a few minutes I was leaving Dunkin.

DD drive thru

Dunkin’ doesn’t have the drink specification options that Starbucks does, and it pays off in wait time. Lines are consistently shorter and I spend much less time waiting at Dunkin’ compared to Starbucks.

Dunkin’s food is also more appealing and served faster.

dunkin beyond

Dunkin’ has the advantage in food variety over Starbucks, with a wider selection of sandwiches, pastries, and bagels. 

A Starbucks drive-thru is a very different experience compared to Dunkin’.

Starbucks drive-thru

Starbucks has 3,900 drive-thru locations in about half of total stores.

The line is almost always long, frequently extending into other store’s parking lots.

Starbucks drive-thru

Starbucks isn’t included in all of QSR’s surveys, but in 2018 Bloomberg found the average wait time for the drive-thru was 4.44 minutes, one of the slowest in the industry.

The chain is working on updates, though, including taking orders through digital drive-thru screens and handheld devices for baristas to input orders on.

Starbucks smart screen
Starbucks barista.

Kalinowski points to how these newer drive-thru technologies can minimize wait times in drive-thrus. “In a traditional drive-thru, there’s only one place an order can be taken,” he told Insider. “That creates huge bottlenecks,” compared to having mobile stations where customers can place orders.

Like Dunkin, this drive-thru only had one lane that every car had to go through, but that could change in the future.

Starbucks drive-thru

Starbucks says it is designing new drive-thru ideas, including double lanes, drive-thru-only stores, and drive-thru plus curbside pickup locations.

For fairness, I also ordered a latte, sandwich, and pastry at Starbucks, though the food selection was far more limited than at Dunkin’.

Starbucks drive-thru

Starbucks employees told Insider that some stores are experiencing shortages of key products and ingredients including cups, flavored syrups, and baked goods, in addition to the widely-reported oat milk shortage.

Starbucks sandwiches are always disappointing for the time and money.

Starbucks drive-thru

For comparison, Dunkin’ sandwiches are $3.69 at my location, while Starbucks sandwiches are over $5. Dunkin’ also sometimes does two for $5 promotions, making a Starbucks sandwich hard to justify even if I preferred it.

Starbucks is more expensive and the waits are longer, but all the customization options make up for the difference.

Starbucks drive-thru

While Starbucks is working to make drive-thrus more efficient, it isn’t trying to be the fastest drive-thru around, Kalinowski says. “Customization is much more meaningful for Starbucks,” he says.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ each succeed at their goals to reach target customers, but they’re doing very different things.

Starbucks drive-thru

It’s hard to compare one-to-one because these two chains serve coffee, but they’re ultimately after different experiences. 

Starbucks is a coffee destination, while Dunkin’ seems to prioritize food at least on par with coffee.

I’ll continue going to both, although Dunkin’ is for days when I need to grab an iced coffee quickly, and Starbucks is more of a treat on its own.

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

How wearable pods designed to keep spectators dry at sporting events came to be used by drive-thru workers at Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’

cfa distance
  • Under the Weather produces weatherproof pods.
  • Most customers were sports fans and festival goers, but it pivoted to fit around COVID changes.
  • Drive-thru and curbside workers at Dunkin, Chick-fil-A, and Olive Garden have used them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

You might have seen them on your most recent trip through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru, on a plane, or at a kid’s sporting event. Under the Weather Pods are weather-resistant, screened-in structure that can be worn or sat in.

Rick Pescovitz designed the first pod in 2010 after he got the idea from an experience he had sheltering in a Porta Potty from bad weather during his daughter’s soccer game. The Porta Potty inspired the shape of the original pod, which was made based on a laundry basket with a steel wire structure, Pescovitz told Insider.

nevada soccer

The pods, which now come in more than 30 variations, were originally a big hit with parents like Pescovitz, and tailgaters, he said. Under the Weather began reaching out to crossing guards and ticket takers too, and business picked up in 2014. Since those early days, the company has sold a few hundred thousand pods according to Pescovitz

Read more: Chick-fil-A’s out-of-control drive-thru lines have it facing off against local businesses and battling lawsuits

When COVID hit the US in March 2020, it could have been disastrous for the niche company. Before the pandemic, 90% of customers were sports fans and music festival attendees, Pescovitz, said, and February through May was the busiest season. COVID essentially shut down all of the company’s usual business, and they were forced to pivot.

IntubationPodMinn

Peskovitz saw the need for PPE on the news and he thought, “we could do something like that.” Within four weeks Under the Weather had come up with a concept, samples, and the final product of the intubation pod, which provides extra protection for healthcare workers during one of the most potentially contagious procedures. Under the Weather donated and sold these pods to hospitals and EMTs.

Under the weather pods
Under the Weather Pods.

The wearable line has been the most popular since the start of the pandemic due to the rise of curbside pickup, Peskovitz told Insider. He says 25 to 30,000 sales can be directly attributed to COVID. Some Chick-fil-a locations use the walking pods for drive-thru and curbside employees, a deal that Peskovitz says has been “really good for us.”

Many people are “uncomfortable or too prideful,” to wear the pods, one Indiana Chick-fil-A employee told Insider. However, he likes them, saying “it keeps us dry, keeps iPads dry, blocks out the wind, and makes it more tolerable.”

NJ covid test

As drive-thru and curbside pickup continues to grow in importance, other brands are testing out the pods. Dunkin’ and Dutch Bros. Coffee have rolled them out, and they’re being tested at Portillos, Olive Garden, and Outback Steakhouse.

In the future, Peskovitz says he wants Under the Weather to grow sales to businesses and work with corporate chains directly, rather than finding interested franchisees to sell to separately. Private buyers can purchase pods directly from Under the Weather, or from Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Walmart.

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

Krispy Kreme exec says the chain’s drive-thru was a ‘lifeline’ during the pandemic

Krispy Kreme drive thru
Krispy Kreme drive thru.

  • Krispy Kreme’s CMO says drive-thrus were a key to success during the last year.
  • Drive-thru sales have been up across fast-food chains as dining rooms closed.
  • New Krispy Kreme locations outside of urban areas will have drive-thrus.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Drive-thrus have been vital to the survival of fast food and quick-service restaurants over the past year, and for doughnut chain Krispy Kreme, they were key to keeping business going during the pandemic.

“Drive-thrus were a real lifeline,” Krispy Kreme Chief Marketing Officer Dave Skena told Insider in a phone interview. Through most of the pandemic, many locations were drive-thru only, with dining rooms closed. The locations that already had drive-thrus up and running had a “structural advantage,” Skena said, and they were “key to keeping team members safe.”

Read more: Chick-fil-A’s out-of-control drive-thru lines have it facing off against local businesses and battling lawsuits

Skena says drive-thrus are definitely part of the chain’s future. Most stores outside of urban environments have drive-thrus, Skena says,and new locations will continue to feature them. Krispy Kreme sells itself as an “experiential retailer,” where customers can see doughnuts being made and smell them. So right now the company is asking itself “how can we being that experience to the drive-thru?” Skena said.

Fast food and fast-casual brands across the country have optimized drive-thrus over the last year as they became crucial in the age of COVID-19. Drive-thru orders have grown across the fast-food industry since the pandemic closed many dining rooms.

Drive-thrus have been up industry-wide because they are perceived as a “safe way to use the brand” Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider.

McDonald’s, already a drive-thru heavy hitter with 25,000 worldwide, says that 70% of sales in top markets are from drive-thru orders. Even salad chain Sweetgreen is jumping on the trend. Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell both notably slimmed down menus to make drive-thrus more efficient this year.

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

Krispy Kreme will give a free donut a day to anyone with a COVID-19 vaccination card

Krispy Kreme New York Flagship Store 26
  • Krispy Kreme is giving out free donuts to people with vaccine cards.
  • Employees will get four paid hours to get vaccinated if they choose.
  • Other retailers like Target and Dollar General are offering similar perks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Krispy Kreme will give away a free glazed donut to anyone who comes in with a COVID-19 vaccination card through the end of 2021, the company announced Monday.

“Whatever little things brands can do to help make it past the pandemic are good things,” Chief Marketing Office Dave Skena told Insider in a phone call. There are no limits on the free donuts, so a vaccinated person could potentially go every day.

The chain will also give employees up to four hours of paid time off to get both vaccine doses. “I hope that other brands will see and choose to do something similar,” Skena said.

While employees have the time to get vaccinated, Krispy Kreme will not require vaccinations. Getting vaccinated is a “personal choice,” Skena says that they “want to encourage and make sure nothing is standing in the way.”

Krispy Kreme isn’t the only company offering accommodations to help employees get vaccinated. Target and Dollar General are two of many offering vacation time for vaccine appointments. Kroger, Petco, and Publix are all offering cash or gift cards to employees who show proof of vaccinations.

Krispy Kreme says it will also support workers and volunteers at vaccination sites with free donuts at certain centers across the country in the next few weeks.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Smashburger is opening 40 restaurants in 2021. Take a look at its plans for open kitchens, food lockers, and more.

Smashburger
The dine-in experience is getting a makeover option, too.

Fast-casual chain Smashburger is planning on adding to its global network of 250 corporate and franchise restaurants by opening 40 new restaurants in 2021.

The chain has focused on a dine-in model in the past but plans to offer more takeout and collection services, accelerated partly by the pandemic.

Smashburger
The restaurants will offer a range of collection and delivery options, as well as traditional dine-in.

The company plans to focus on “aggressively” opening new stores in busy suburban areas of Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC, its president, Carl Bachmann, told Insider.

Though the new restaurants were planned before the pandemic, they’ll offer customers contactless ways to collect food. This includes using food lockers to keep food hot until customers collect their meals. These are also in the works for other fast-food chains, including KFC and Burger King.

Smashburger
Customers will be able to collect their orders from heated food lockers.

The new restaurants won’t only have enhanced collection options. The dine-in experience is getting a makeover, too.

This includes open kitchens, so customers can see their orders being cooked, and restaurant interiors that are specific to the city.

Smashburger
The restaurants will have open kitchens.

Smashburger also launched a new website and app during the pandemic, but still plans to offer delivery through a network of delivery service apps.

Other fast food chains are also redesigning their restaurants as demand for drive-thru and digital ordering continue to boom during the coronavirus pandemic. Shake Shack is opening its first drive-thru in Orlando, Florida, later this year, and plans to debut new delivery and collection methods, too. Burger King is also rolling out new-look stores will open in Miami, Latin America, and the Caribbean in 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Smashburger is opening 40 restaurants in 2021, complete with food lockers and open kitchens. This is what they will look like.

Smashburger
The dine-in experience is getting a makeover option, too.

Fast-casual chain Smashburger is planning on adding to its global network of 250 corporate and franchise restaurants by opening 40 new restaurants in 2021.

The chain has focused on a dine-in model in the past but plans to offer more takeout and collection services, accelerated partly by the pandemic.

Smashburger
The restaurants will offer a range of collection and delivery options, as well as traditional dine-in.

The company plans to focus on “aggressively” opening new stores in busy suburban areas of Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC, its president, Carl Bachmann, told Insider.

Though the new restaurants were planned before the pandemic, they’ll offer customers contactless ways to collect food. This includes using food lockers to keep food hot until customers collect their meals. These are also in the works for other fast-food chains, including KFC and Burger King.

Smashburger
Customers will be able to collect their orders from heated food lockers.

The new restaurants won’t only have enhanced collection options. The dine-in experience is getting a makeover, too.

This includes open kitchens, so customers can see their orders being cooked, and restaurant interiors that are specific to the city.

Smashburger
The restaurants will have open kitchens.

Smashburger also launched a new website and app during the pandemic, but still plans to offer delivery through a network of delivery service apps.

Other fast food chains are also redesigning their restaurants as demand for drive-thru and digital ordering continue to boom during the coronavirus pandemic. Shake Shack is opening its first drive-thru in Orlando, Florida, later this year, and plans to debut new delivery and collection methods, too. Burger King is also rolling out new-look stores will open in Miami, Latin America, and the Caribbean in 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

6 ways Chick-fil-A is speeding up its massive drive-thru lines, from workers FaceTime-ing drivers to ghost kitchens

chick fil a drive thru worker
  • 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. 

Workers with iPads

chick fil a drive thru
Chick-fil-A employees take and delivery orders to cars directly.

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 uniforms
At Chick-fil-A headquarters in 2019, modeling a uniform parka.

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.   

Weather pods

CFA Weather pod.
A weather pod.

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

chick fil a drive thru
The viral TikTok caused people to wonder if the Chick-fil-A employee was working from home.

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

CFA Drive Thru Canopy.PNG
This Chick-fil-A features a heated canopy.

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

Kitchen United Conveyor
Ghost kitchens could help Chick-fil-A speed up drive-thrus by taking the pressure off of existing locations.

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. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Smashburger is opening 40 restaurants in 2021 with food lockers and open kitchens. Take a look inside.

Smashburger
The dine-in experience is getting a makeover option, too.

Fast-casual chain Smashburger is planning on adding to its global network of 250 corporate and franchise restaurants by opening 40 new restaurants in 2021.

The chain has focused on a dine-in model in the past but plans to offer more takeout and collection services, accelerated partly by the pandemic.

Smashburger
The restaurants will offer a range of collection and delivery options, as well as traditional dine-in.

The company plans to focus on “aggressively” opening new stores in busy suburban areas of Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC, its president, Carl Bachmann, told Insider.

Though the new restaurants were planned before the pandemic, they’ll offer customers contactless ways to collect food. This includes using food lockers to keep food hot until customers collect their meals. These are also in the works for other fast-food chains, including KFC and Burger King.

Smashburger
Customers will be able to collect their orders from heated food lockers.

The new restaurants won’t only have enhanced collection options. The dine-in experience is getting a makeover, too.

This includes open kitchens, so customers can see their orders being cooked, and restaurant interiors that are specific to the city.

Smashburger
The restaurants will have open kitchens.

Smashburger also launched a new website and app during the pandemic, but still plans to offer delivery through a network of delivery service apps.

Other fast food chains are also redesigning their restaurants as demand for drive-thru and digital ordering continue to boom during the coronavirus pandemic. Shake Shack is opening its first drive-thru in Orlando, Florida, later this year, and plans to debut new delivery and collection methods, too. Burger King is also rolling out new-look stores will open in Miami, Latin America, and the Caribbean in 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How Chick-fil-A is trying to keep drive-thru workers safe as long lines force employees to face harsh weather this winter

chick fil a drive thru long lines 2 2x1
  • Chick-fil-A relies on employees to work outside at drive-thrus, even in intense weather conditions.
  • The chain has introduced winter coats and heated canopies to keep employees safe and comfortable.
  • Four employees told Insider about what it’s really like at the beloved fast-food franchise.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Chick-fil-A is known for friendly employees and good service. But things aren’t always so cheery for some workers behind the scenes. 

“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.”

The worker said that she has worked outside in snow, rain, and hail. Chick-fil-A told Insider that it prioritizes worker safety and employees get frequent breaks.

Chick-fil-A has long been hailed as a drive-thru success story, with customers happy to wait in line for an average of more than eight minutes – the longest in the fast food – to get their chicken sandwiches. 

However, with Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru business booming in the pandemic, some workers are dealing with more pressure than ever before. Insider spoke with four Chick-fil-A employees, in four different states, about working the chain’s drive-thru lines.

Employees describe working outside in freezing weather, as the chain sends employees directly to cars to speed up drive-thrus. At the same time, workers said that Chick-fil-A is rolling out new strategies to keep them safe and comfortable, from winter jackets to the polarizing “pod.” 

Some Chick-fil-A workers say they struggle to stay warm, as the chain depends on them working outside

In recent years, it has become an increasingly common practice for Chick-fil-A workers to walk up to cars to personally take orders, in an effort to speed up the line. 

“They’ll put their employees out in that drive-thru line to take your order, in some instances, very far away from the actual physical store,” Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider.

“For the massive lines that a lot of them have, I do think that helps speed things up,” Kalinowski continued. “It helps give people confidence that even when they’re entering a big, long line of cars, that it’s going to be worth the wait and the wait is not going to be all that tremendously bad.” 

While having employees take orders on tablets can speed up business, it also requires employees to spend time outside in some less-than-ideal conditions, as the four employees Insider spoke to shared.

An Indiana Chick-fil-A employee said his restaurant policy meant that workers get assigned to work outside at the drive-thru at temperatures of 25 degrees or above, regardless of wind chill. When temperatures drop below 25 degrees, workers 17 and younger are swapped out in 15-minute intervals, or an employee over 18 takes over, according to the policy at his Indiana location.

During cold shifts, the employee in Indiana told Insider that the general rule is to stay outside “as long as you can.” He says employees who ask for a replacement typically get one within ten to fifteen minutes. A Minnesota employee told Insider that at his location, drive-thru workers are allowed to go inside for breaks when they need to, and outdoor workers are brought inside by 6:45 at this time of year. 

An employee in another location in the Midwest said that at her store the policy is not to make anyone go outside once it feels likes 25 degrees, although this is not strictly enforced.

Chick-fil-A said that operations vary by restaurants, and that that locations have the authority to pause curbside delivery when necessary, especially in the case of inclement weather and darkness. 

“Our restaurant teams have worked tirelessly to share a smile through their masks and deliver a seamless, contactless experience, primarily through our drive-thru and curbside service as most dining rooms remain closed,” the company said in a statement. 

CFA Henrietta

Chick-fil-A is creating new fixes for employees working outside

According to the Indiana employee, workers take multiple steps to deal with frigid temperatures. 

On colder days, the Indiana employee usually wears a “hoodie, gloves, light jacket, and parka,” he said. The Midwestern employee wears a fleece jacket, winter jacket, and snow pants along with boots, a hat, and gloves on the coldest days. A 16-year-old employee in a Minnesota location confirmed that the company provides warm weather gear necessary for working cold shifts, though he is responsible for some pieces, like boots and thermal underwear. 

Chick-fil-A provides employees with a light jacket and a parka, and they can wear anything underneath as long as the uniform pieces are on top.

The company told Insider that it released new winter apparel this year which restaurant operators can order for employees. The new gear includes gloves, base layers, boots, and a jacket designer to keep the wearer warm in sub-zero temperatures. However, the company said workers would not be outside in temperatures that low. 

CFA Weather pod.
Weatherpod.

The other weather protection gear provided by Chick-fil-A is more controversial among employees.

Weather pods are 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, the Indiana employee told Insider. However, he likes them, saying “it keeps us dry, keeps iPads dry, blocks out the wind, and makes it more tolerable.”

“Restaurant Team Members embody the spirit of Chick-fil-A and there is nothing more important than their safety,” the company said in a statement to Insider. 

Chick-fil-A said that as the company adjusted its drive-thrus strategies during the pandemic, safety was fundamental, whether that be protection from the weather or from COVID-19. 

“We recognize our Operators’ Team Members are working extra hard to accommodate an increase in drive-thru and delivery orders while most restaurant dining rooms remain closed during this time, and we are grateful for their commitment to providing guests with our signature service and hospitality despite the many challenges of the past year,” the statement continued. 

The chain is also testing some high-tech solutions. Recently, a TikTok went viral showing a Chick-fil-A taking an order via FaceTime, allowing the employee to stay safe and warm inside. 

Chick-fil-A said in a statement to Insider that the TikTok showed essentially the “same ‘face-to-face’ ordering you’ve likely seen in the drive-thru, just done virtually.”

“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 continued. “It allows the Team Member to stay inside, while still offering guests the friendly customer experience of a smiling Team Member.”

Chick-fil-A’s long lines are giving workers some new problems to handle 

Drive-thrus give employees other problems to handle besides harsh weather.

Insider found that Chick-fil-A has faced at least four lawsuits from local businesses and customers related to its drive-thru lanes since the pandemic began. Other business owners told Insider that out-of-control drive-thru lines are hurting their businesses, trapping in cars and driving away customers.

Often, it’s up to these employees to handle the angry customers and business owners. The Indiana employee said he has encountered customers who have become “aggressive” over enforcing mask policies, leading to arguments. 

CFA Henrietta

The Indiana Chick-fil-A worker said a nearby local Applebee’s escalated drive-thru complaints to the authorities. According to the employee, the city ordered Chick-fil-A to reroute the drive-thru, which often goes down a main street and blocks traffic.

“We get overwhelmed and have nowhere else to put it,” the 17-year-old supervisor told Insider.

The location finally reached an agreement with the city that requires the chain to speed up work on a remodeled drive-thru, which will have two lanes to cut down on traffic.

The remodel comes with other perks for workers, too. An overhang over the drive-thru lanes will block out rain and sun. They will also come equipped with fans and heaters, all of which could make outdoor shifts easier on employees.

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

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