Drive-thru Design Options

Sherman DyeSo you are installing a drive thru... With quick serve restaurants generating more than half of all revenues in the drive thru lane it is not difficult to understand why brands that have traditionally not had a drive thru are now taking a look.  While everyone loves to be first, there is no penalty for joining the parade even at this late date.  Perhaps there is a little advantage in that the experience of the trail blazers is available.  My own experience with drive thru service began in 1979 when I learned the ropes in a restaurant chain named after a little red-haired girl, followed by 30 years as a franchisee with the guys who flame-broil.

 Over the years, enhancements to the basic drive thru have included multiple windows, wireless headsets, order confirmation displays and pre-sell boards.   Regardless of the configuration, the purpose of a drive thru is to clearly and quickly obtain an order from a customer so it may be prepared and delivered at the window minutes later. 

 Over the years, two options for drive thru menu board layout have emerged.  The “big guys” have adopted the angled menu board and speaker post design and use it at every opportunity. (There is a lesson here!)  Alternately, when space is limited, a curbside menu board design is the fall back choice.

 The Angled Menu Board Drive-Thru Design

So, why is the angled menu board design preferred by Mr Big?  Three reasons. 

  1. If the menu board is large, having it set back allows the customer (as well as those in the passenger’s seat) a full view.  
  2. Placing the speaker and microphone in a separate post close to the customer produces the best sound. 
  3. And, finally, the angled board allows the second customer in line a view of the menu, even if somewhat limited. It also provides a nice place to plant some flowers, but that is a little off subject.

The Curbside Menu Board Drive-Thru Design

The curbside menu boards offer none of these advantages.  Curbside boards are often large and difficult to view, requiring drivers to twist and contort like a yoga master.  And only the guest at the board may view the sign.  The speaker and microphone placed inside the board are now in the poorest place they could be, compounded by the fact that sign manufacturers often neglect the rules for microphone positioning! Large, flat menu boards are notorious noise makers with the internal board elements easily rattled by the wind or road vibrations.  Beyond that, boards with ballasts and florescent lights generate RF interference that can be picked up by the microphone or wire, even though they are shielded to resist. However, if limited space is available, a curbside may be the only choice.

What about a hybrid of both designs?

Some creative folks have tried to combine the two designs.  Don't go there!  The result is a curbside menu with a speaker post off to one side.  Customers are focused on viewing the menu, not locating the microphone so they often drive right past the order post.  Microphones are not magic, they are bound by the rules of physics.  The closer the customer is when speaking the better the sound will be for the order taker.  Watch a singer perform. Don't they always have the microphone laid right on their chin, as opposed to arm’s length off to the side? (Another lesson!)

 So, what are the rules for placing a microphone?   The best positioning is 44 to 48 inches high, 6 inches behind the curb when using the angled menu board layout.  Any deviation from these rules will result in some loss of sound quality which makes it clear why curbside menu boards are second rate!

 So learn from the “big guys”!  Benefit from their experience.  Choose an angled menu board every time space allows.

Here are diagrams of each design:

Angled Menu Board Drive-Thru Design

Curbside Menu Board Drive-Thru Design