Will in-car ordering reinvent the drive-thru?

Photo: Getty Images
Dec 27, 2021

For a number of years, quick-serve restaurants have been piloting different combinations of technology to try to address drive-thru bottlenecks. Now a new solution is bringing voice ordering right to the car’s interior.

BurgerFi recently became the first food establishment to launch in-car ordering on vehicles that are equipped with 5G. The solution, from Mavi.io, hopes to streamline a driver’s ability to connect with grocers, pharmacies, restaurants, nail salons and other businesses to facilitate ordering, payment and curbside pickup.

Eat This, Not That! wrote, “The purchasing process is conducted hands-free via voice and data displayed on the vehicle’s dashboard screen. The driver simply engages the MAVI.io system, verbally states what they want to buy, and is then met with a list of suitable recommendations. The user next places a specific order, again via voice, and the system coordinates placing the order and GPS guidance, leading the driver to the pickup destination, complete with their own real-time ETA and the status of the order.

Other major fast food chains have tried to speed drivers through lines by giving the drive-thru itself a high-tech upgrade. McDonald’s has tested AI-based voice assistant ordering as well as touchscreen ordering at the drive-thru. White Castle has explored license plate recognition-based ordering.

This is not the foodservice world’s first partnership with the automotive industry meant to get customers ordering from their cars.

In 2017 General Motors rolled out an on-dash touchscreen solution called Marketplace to allow people to place food orders from Starbucks, Wingstop and other places directly from their dashboards. Ordering from dashboards was touted as safer than from smartphones, but safety advocates still found shopping activities may divert drivers’ eyes off the road.

Remote ordering via mobile device has proved to be very popular for some QSRs. However, Starbucks experienced mobile ordering bottlenecks even before the pandemic, going as far as to open mobile-pickup-only kiosks to reduce wait times. More recently, a Business Insider article from June 2021 characterized Starbucks’s baristas as being swamped with mobile orders due to an escalated rate of mobile app ordering because of the pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does in-car voice ordering like what BurgerFi is piloting offer a solution to drive-thru bottlenecks? How would you access the benefits and risks of car dashboard commerce versus smartphone ordering?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Pre-ordering is a smart strategy to make drive-thru lines faster and at high volume QSRs, it will become the standard."
"Ordering is not the problem and this solution is a driver distraction. What we have is a process problem."
"Are we all really in that much of a hurry?"

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9 Comments on "Will in-car ordering reinvent the drive-thru?"

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David Naumann

BurgerFi’s in-car voice ordering is a clever twist on mobile ordering to make ordering easier and safer. While it may seem a little easier than ordering from your car’s touchscreen monitor, it still seems like a potential safety issue, unless the person ordering is the passenger. Pre-ordering is a smart strategy to make drive-thru lines faster and at high volume QSRs, it will become the standard.

Ken Morris

Ordering is not the problem and this solution is a driver distraction. What we have is a process problem. It takes harmony of people, process and technology to solve this problem and it is not the ordering component but the process fulfillment component causing the issue. Solving the queuing problem by a combination of GPS and license plate recognition is much safer and more productive customer engagement. The arrival times need to match up exactly with the order delivery times — without having to get in the same line with everyone else. The only solution is two separate delivery points. Whether that’s curbside spots, a dedicated line (still might see bottlenecks), or drones, it has to be synced up with the order delivery or the bottlenecks will persist.

Richard Hernandez

One of my pet peeves is when it takes the car ahead of me 10 minutes to make an order, whether I am at Starbucks or a burger place. If this helps in getting very detailed orders to go faster, I am all for it.

Bob Amster

This sounds more like a gimmick than a cure and can be distracting to the driver.

David Spear

This is a quality idea but I still think this distracts the driver and is a safety issue when the only person doing the ordering in the car is the driver. Voice has continually gained momentum as the nexus that enables commerce. I see voice becoming increasingly the mechanism that will drive ordering. Think beyond this initial rollout and the 5th generation of improvements? It will be interesting to see it play out.

Rich Kizer

Are we all really in that much of a hurry? I suppose there may be a better/faster way. But is it a problem? I don’t think I’ve ever waited more that 5 to 8 minutes after I say no to the fries. It’s not bad, and I’m entertained if I have to wait — with my satellite radio. Not a bad deal.

4 months 22 days ago

But this system is not for the drive through. BurgerFi does not have a drive through.

This system is so you can stay in your car and order then they will bring it out to the curb. Sounds kind of like the drive-in Sonic — order at a speaker post then they bring the order out to you. The only difference is instead of the business having the speaker post for you to order through, now you have to use your own device.

Kai Clarke

No, this shift of in-car ordering is really just a different version of online ordering that almost every fast food restaurant offers. Most phones have voice active, voice-to-text online conversion. This is just a different version of the same old thing, not a reinvention.

Anil Patel

The major challenge with drive-thru was space. During the busy hours, cars would pile up outside the drive-thru which is no good for either the QSR or the customer experience. Smartphone ordering was able to solve this problem to a certain extent. However, due to traffic regulations, it is not advisable to order while driving. But with in-car voice ordering, customers can utilize their commute time to finish grocery shopping or order food in advance so that it is ready just in time before you reach the QSR to pick it up.

"Pre-ordering is a smart strategy to make drive-thru lines faster and at high volume QSRs, it will become the standard."
"Ordering is not the problem and this solution is a driver distraction. What we have is a process problem."
"Are we all really in that much of a hurry?"

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