Chick-fil-A CEO says 30% of people drive away because the chain’s drive-thru lines are so long

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review
  • Chick-fil-A CEO said that a third of customers drive away from the drive-thru because of long lines.
  • Putting another restaurant a few miles away doesn’t reduce demand, he said.
  • Chick-fil-A uses technology to keep drive-thrus moving efficiently.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chick-fil-A is one of the biggest players in the fast-food drive-thru game, but some of the success might actually be driving customers away.

“We estimate about 30% of the people are driving off, driving away, because the lines are so long,” exiting CEO Dan Cathy told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The data shows that Chick-fil-A does have longer drive-thru lines than its competitors. The chicken chain had the longest wait time out of the 10 quick-service chains tested at 541 seconds, or about nine minutes, in the 2021 QSR drive-thru study. But long waits don’t tell the whole story, because Chick-fil-A also came out on top for customer service and order accuracy.

Through a spokesperson, Chick-fil-A declined to comment.

Drive-thru waits have gotten longer over time. In 2019, the average speed was 322.98 seconds, just over five minutes, and in 2020 the wait was 488.8 seconds, about eight minutes. Waits have nearly doubled since 2019, but customers don’t seem to care. The chain was the only business to get a 100% accuracy rating in the same survey, and also got the top spot for customer service.

The long waits aren’t surprising: Chick-fil-A is really popular. According to the survey, Chick-fil-A locations had an average of four cars waiting in line at any given time, well above the average of 2.2 cars at McDonald’s, the next highest. These wait times are a symptom of Chick-fil-A’s massive success; the average Chick-fil-A store does over $US4.5 ($AU6) million in annual sales, compared to the average McDonald’s store with $US2.9 ($AU4) million.

Chick-fil-A does have strategies to make drive-thrus faster and more efficient, like installing double drive-thru lanes and having workers take customers’ orders on tablets at their cars before they reach windows to reduce bottlenecks. Even with these measures, which are being adopted by competing chains, it’s not unusual for the drive-thru line to extend out onto the street or block entrances to other businesses, and at times require police help directing traffic.

One method to mitigate long lines is to open another Chick-fil-A location a mile or two away from a busy restaurant. “We found that doesn’t solve the problem. It is a huge well, which makes us realize how much growth potential we still have here in the US,” Dan Cathy said.

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