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October 4, 2022

A worker gives a customer their order at the drive-through of a Wendy’s fast food restaurant in Pinole, California, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Wendy’s is often credited with pioneering drive-thru ordering, but the burger chain’s drive-thru accuracy and customer satisfaction scores lagged behind its rivals this year, according to a new study.

The study published on Tuesday comes after driving courses became even more of a critical sales driver for the fast-food sector during the first days of the Covid pandemic, when many restaurants closed their lunches and customers felt safer in their cars.

The shift to drive-thru ordering has put pressure on fast-food chains, which are still working to get service back to pre-pandemic speeds. This year, the average total time spent in the drive-thru lane was 6 minutes and 13 seconds, according to Intouch Insight’s annual drive-thru study. That’s about 10 seconds faster than last year, but still about 45 seconds slower than the 2019 average.

Wendy’s late performance comes even though founder Dave Thomas helped popularize drive-thru windows by building a pickup window as part of the chain’s second restaurant in 1970. The concept has since become a staple in the fast-food industry, with drive-thru. orders representing about two-thirds of sales. Many chains such as Taco Bell and Burger King are building restaurants with two or even three drive-thru lanes, and McDonald’s and Panera Bread are among the companies testing drive-thru order automation.

The Intouch Insight study was based on visits to more than 1,500 locations of Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’, Hardee’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s. Mystery shoppers ordered from the drive-thru aisles during a series of times from June to July.

Wendy’s had the lowest order accuracy and customer satisfaction scores of the chains surveyed, with only 79% of drive-thru orders completed correctly. McDonald’s and Arby’s had the best accuracy rates at 89% of correct orders. Wendy’s earned a customer satisfaction score of 82%, while Carl’s Jr. and Chick-fil-A share the top spot with 95% satisfaction.

Wendy’s relatively low customer satisfaction scores are likely contributing to its recent financial performance, Evercore ISI analyst David Palmer wrote in a research note. In its second quarter, the hamburger chain reported same-store sales growth in the United States of 2.3%, which was not the expectations.

A representative for Wendy’s did not immediately return a request for comment from CNBC.

For the third year in a row, Chick-fil-A had the fastest time to count the number of cars in line, while McDonald’s took second place. But Chick-fil-A also had the longest lines, with an average of 4.74 cars waiting for their orders. That meant it had the longest average total time spent in the drive-thru lane despite its relatively fast service. Yum Brands’ Taco Bell jumped from fifth place to third place this year, while Wendy’s fell to sixth place, according to a CNBC analysis of the data.

Wendy’s driving speed is the most impaired among the chains examined. It had an average service time of 4 minutes and 35 seconds, which was 20% longer than in 2019, according to independent analysis by Evercore’s Palmer. Other chains almost maintained their pre-pandemic service speeds. For example, top performer Chick-fil-A’s service time of 5 minutes and 25 seconds was only 1% slower despite a 27% increase in sales per restaurant over the same time, Palmer wrote in a research note.

Chick-fil-A also took the top spot for other metrics. Its employees were ranked the friendliest, and tied with Taco Bell as the chain with the best quality of food, meaning the food tasted as expected.

Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru lanes and reputation for customer service have helped fuel the chicken chain’s sales growth in recent years, despite controversy over donations to anti-terrorist groups. -LGBTQ. In 2018, it became the third largest restaurant chain in the United States by sales, after McDonald’s and Starbucks. The privately held chain reported $16.67 billion in systemwide sales for 2021, according to franchise disclosure documents.