Drive-Thru Dynamics: The Struggle To Attract & Retain Staff

Picture of Salwa Al-Tahan

Salwa Al-Tahan


Navigating the fast paced world of QSR’s, isn’t just about the food- it’s about the people behind the counter. Reliable and dedicated staff are the backbone of any successful business, but the QSR industry is facing a persistent staffing challenge that is proving difficult to overcome. 

According to the National Restaurant Association 62% of operators in America don’t have enough employees to meet customer demand. But this isn’t just in America, unfortunately lack of staffing is a common global problem. 

The Pandemic's Impact and Millennial Mindset

This problem mainly began during the pandemic where many unemployed workers left the industry for good, leaving a gap for a new generation of workers.  A recent talk by Chris English of McDonald’s at the Restaurant and Takeaway Innovation Expo in London, revealed a startling statistic: ‘64% of millennials don’t want to work in the QSR industry’ and for those that do, retention is a major problem. The reality is that the evolving values of GenZ, coupled with escalating living expenses and a desire for higher paid salaries have reshaped their career aspirations. This staffing dilemma, along with Brexit in Europe and higher childcare costs are all factors in deterring many from accepting entry level positions, further contributing to the ongoing labour shortage.

For those that do work in the QSR industry there often isn’t the drive to remain committed to their work. This sadly means that a company will invest a lot of time and money training members of staff only to have them leave before completing, or after a short period of time. And for employees who are working, many are unhappy. According to, 90% of employees worked over time, double shifts or extra shifts in 2022 mainly due to staff shortages. In fact one in four restaurant workers expect to leave the industry within a year. Low wages, unpredictable hours, poor communication, physical challenges (most complain of back and foot pain), and difficult customers are cited as the main reasons. 

The Ripple Effect of Staffing Shortages

With the same problems echoed by many major brands across the globe, the impact on businesses is becoming significantly evident. And the reality is, that QSR managers are trying to run operations with a lower staff turnover, juggle staff sickness and navigate retention issues in an industry that is seeking more demand from its customers. Undoubtedly, this has a profound effect that is particularly noted by both customers and staff during peak times. 


Inadequate staffing not only increases wait times, causing frustrated ‘hangry’ customers but also heightens the pressure on existing staff. Stressed out and overworked staff often means poorer customer service, an increase in order inaccuracies as well as missed opportunities to meet sales targets by not having time to offer upsells or cross sell.

Industry Responses to Staffing Challenges

In efforts to attract and retain staff, many restaurant operators are offering to increase wages or pay above the minimum according to 7shifts. Most are recognising GenZ’s career goals and are responding by introducing mentorship opportunities, leadership and training programs with clear paths to management careers and even offering health insurance. Some go as far as enticing employees with bonuses for achieving milestone working days, and are making conscious efforts to improve overall staff experiences. Initiatives like diversity and inclusion programs are also being incorporated to help build a full workforce, all of which are commendable efforts, but unfortunately it is still not enough.


The Role of AI Technology

In this fast paced world we live in, QSR’s need solutions to bridge the gap with staffing issues and as a way to keep up with the exponential growth of the industry. Technology and AI are providing means to help streamline operations and allow brands to keep up, rather than risking losing their customers to the nearest competitor with a shorter wait time and better customer service. As we explore these technological solutions it’s important to understand their specific applications and impact, starting with the increasingly popular mobile apps and curbside pickups.

Mobile Order Apps and Curbside Pickups:

Mobile ordering apps, where customers can order and pay on their phone ahead of arrival for curbside pickups have been instrumental both during and after the pandemic. They have provided safe, contact-free options and also significantly improved the efficiency of drive-thru operations. By allowing customers to order in advance, these apps have reduced wait times and congestion, enabling some QSR’s to add additional lanes exclusively for pre-placed orders. This is  particularly beneficial during peak hours, helping to streamline the ordering process and enhance customer satisfaction.

Furthermore, mobile apps have opened up new opportunities for personalised marketing and customer engagement. With these apps, QSR’s can offer tailored promotions, loyalty rewards, and personalised recommendations based on previous orders ultimately increasing customer loyalty and repeat business. Mobile apps also provide valuable data insights, allowing QSR’s to better understand customer preferences and buying patterns, which in turn can be used to optimise menu offerings and improve overall service.

For customers who are in a rush or prefer minimal interaction, mobile ordering is an ideal option. However, it’s important to note that while mobile ordering is a preferred choice for many, it may not suit everyone. Some customers still prefer the traditional drive-thru experience, others are spontaneous customers driving by who order on a whim and some may not even be tech-savvy. 

So, while mobile order apps and curbside pickups are a significant step forward in QSR technology, maintaining a balance with traditional ordering methods is crucial to cater to the diverse preferences of all customers. 

Automated Ordering Assistants:

Another technological advancement that caters to those ordering at the drive thru lane, is the integration of conversational Voice AI assistants at the order point. This level of automation may sound advanced, but brands like Wendy’s and McDonald’s are already incorporating these AI assistants as a solution to tackle labour challenges, with many others following suit. Thanks to the advancement in Voice AI technology, there have been significant improvements over the past years with some providers achieving near perfect accuracy and real time response rates. 

So what exactly are these automated ordering assistants? Essentially they are AI powered conversational assistants positioned at the order point speaker posts. They politely greet customers in a human-like voice, offering service in the customer’s preferred language. These assistants not only take orders accurately but also use intelligent recommendation engines to suggest cross sell or upsells based on the customer’s basket, weather conditions, time of day and loyalty program data. This truly creates a unique personalised experience for each customer. After completing the order, the AI assistant verifies it accordingly and has been noted to improve the overall customer satisfaction. 

All the data is then fed in real time directly into the POS system connected to the kitchen, streamlining the entire process without the need for manual interventions (although members of staff can always step in if a problem arises). Believe it or not, these seamless, natural interactions provided by these AI assistants is so proficient that most customers don’t realise they are talking to an AI assistant. 

And for managers this technology is comparable to having a top-class, fully trained staff member available to work 24 hours a day 7 days a week- without concerns about sick days or annual leave. This efficiency in order processing and payment completion significantly reduces the managerial burden of allocating staff to the repetitive order taking task. This is not to say that human staff are no longer needed, but rather with the current staffing shortages, Voice AI technology is enabling managers to resolve the ongoing issues with staff management. By allowing managers to better allocate their workforce, specifically into the kitchen, they are able to meet the growing demand for orders and improve order fulfilment, speed, quality, and overall customer service standards.

But the benefits of this technology extend beyond management and to the employees as well. With reduced pressure on staff allocation, employees are happier and can focus more on the critical aspects of efficiency and quality customer service. 


To conclude, in order to navigate through the global problem of labour shortages, and the exponential growth of the industry, QSR’s must keep up with the latest technology. The integration of mobile apps and AI at the drive-thru are prime examples of how technology not only offer solutions to the labour challenges, but significantly enhance the overall drive-thru experience, setting new standards in customer service and operational efficiency. 

It is also important to note that by embracing technology, QSR’s can also look to benefit from potential operational cost reductions, improved order accuracy, and personalised customer experiences. All of which are compelling for drive thrus aiming for continued growth and success.

To find out more visit

Sodaclick Ltd. London, UK

Sodaclick is a digital signage platform specialising in dynamic content and voice AI experiences at every touchpoint

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