Fast food in high gear

Indeed, this April the company will raise the convenience bar to new heights with the rollout of a month-long, 30-second drive-through guaranteeā€¦the slogan "Thirty seconds from the time you pay till you're on your way," said Peter Beresford, executive vice-president of Toronto-based McDonald's Restaurants of Canada.

McDonaldsBillJohnsonPeterBeresford.jpg

Bill Johnson and Peter Beresford (right).

The Financial Post
March 4, 2002

Fast food in high gear
In a society in which gratification is increasingly instantaneous, quick service isn't rapid enough for many, who hardly want to stop their cars to grab their grub
Patrick Allossery

The fresh-faced McDonald's cashier totals the transaction. "That will be $14.39." Her customer, a middle-aged mom carrying her little daughter on her hip and keeping a close eye on her rambling toddler son, looks up with an embarrassed start. She reaches quickly for her purse.

Preoccupied with her young charges, she has neglected to get her money out ahead of time.

The cashier smiles forgivingly, but it is not her the harried mom is worried about. Behind her in line, waiting customers have already begun to shift from foot to foot. One, arms folded over his chest, even rolls his eyes.

In today's go-go, get-it-done world, a new social covenant has emerged: thou shalt not inconvenience others.

This mother clearly sensed pressure to live up to it, but no one feels the heat more than McDonald's, the chain that, more than any in the fast-food category, has staked its reputation on serving consumers promptly and without hint of delay.

Indeed, this April the company will raise the convenience bar to new heights with the rollout of a month-long, 30-second drive-through guarantee.

The program, to be backed by a national ad campaign, will feature the slogan "Thirty seconds from the time you pay till you're on your way," said Peter Beresford, executive vice-president of Toronto-based McDonald's Restaurants of Canada.

Customers forced to wait longer will receive a coupon for a free Big Mac or breakfast sandwich, Mr. Beresford said.

Convenience has become a crucial deciding factor in the marketplace, said Bill Johnson, president of McDonald's. "It's not just restaurants. Look at the banks."

McDonald's drive-through service accounts for 50% of overall sales at its 1,200 outlets, up from 40% only three years ago, Mr. Johnson said.

According to NPD Group Canada, drive-through sales are on the rise across the quick-service restaurant category. Since it began tracking drive-through sales in 1994, sales have risen a remarkable 250%.

"Convenience is the big trend," said Ailene MacDougall, vice-president of NDP Group. "We're seeing growth not only in drive-through but in sandwiches, wraps — the whole hand-held thing."

At Tim Hortons, bagel sales have been going through the roof over the past several years, said Patti Jameson, the company's vice-president of communications.

"We account for half the bagels sold in Canada through food services," she said.

Tim Hortons has more than 2,000 outlets in this country and another 140 in the United States.

Ms. Jameson lists "consistency and quality" — the price of entry in the food business — as the main elements Tim Hortons seeks to provide its customers. But "speed of service" is No. 2, she said.

The need to emphasize speed is borne out by the company's sales data. Like McDonald's, it reveals that Tim Hortons outlets with drive-through windows conduct 50% of their business with passing motorists.

"Practically everything new we're building has a drive-through," said Paul Hollands, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of A&W Restaurants.

A&W, which is based in Vancouver, has 600 outlets in Canada.

"It's a very sizeable and important part of the business. Anybody who says that people have more time in their lives, I don't know what planet they're living on anymore."

But convenience is more than just speed. For drivers, it means food they can eat without worrying about making a mess. For people who take public transit, it means restaurant outlets in malls, hospitals and entertainment complexes.

And for groups of people with varied tastes, it can mean combo locations — locations with two or three different restaurants offering a wide range of food types.

When Tim Hortons and Wendy's Restaurants of Canada — both owned by U.S.-based Wendy's International — put two outlets in the same location, "the sales of the individual units go up," said Ms. Jameson.

Provide increased convenience and you will reap dividends, agrees Murray Milthorpe, director of marketing with Harvey's Restaurants.

"The whole notion of convenience and obviously speed are key drivers for consumers. But taste is also a key driver, and we've proven people are willing to wait a little bit longer for that proposition."

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