Program Overview

Adding Customer Glue to the Drive-Thru

How Digital Innovation is Transforming the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Experience Through Speed, Convenience and Higher Value Personal Service in the Moment

The CMO Council is teaming with uKnomi – an AI-driven, marketing-in-the-moment technology integrator – to engage members and industry domain experts across the quick-service restaurant and retail sectors on ways to uplift consumer gratification, loyalty and convenience. The initiative will map, model and validate deployment of a data-driven, AI-based QSR experience that uses digital innovation to personalize, expedite and reward every customer drive-thru visit at any one of some 200,000 outlets serving 84 million Americans daily.  

The vision and value proposition is based on combining individualized customer identity recognition technology with AI automation and enriched customer data insight to deliver business building menu-marketing and customer value in the moment of service. The end-goal being to heighten personalized human interaction, efficiency, satisfaction and value in what is perceived to be a time, commodity, and volume-driven impersonal service sector. 

This crosses all formats and types of quick service and casual dining restaurants, mobile kitchens, and kiosks in the foodservice, grocery, coffee, juice and convenience store sectors. The big consumer shift to drive-thru, take-out, pick-up, and doorstep delivery underscores the massive growth of the Convenience Economy. This model can also be expanded to many existing and emerging retail, healthcare, pet and product ownership services where providers seek to quicken orders, personalize interactions, increase transactional values and incentivize repeat business.  

Technology Value Proposition
Mainstream deployment of digital AI-driven identity innovation in drive-thru lanes: 
  •  Automates individual customer knowledge gathering at scale. 
  •  Leverages personal meal preference and order history insights.
  •  Prompts added-value, higher margin menu suggestions.
  •  Acknowledges, motivaes and rewards frequent customer visits.
  •  Speeds up accurate drive-thru service and builds consumer brand preference.
Marketing-in-the-moment service models, such as the uKnomi visual and digital ID system, measurably improve order fulfillment, transactional volume operational efficiency, repeat visits and order value. At the same time, the system mitigates some of the issues associated with highly trafficked drive-thru restaurant operations. 
Challenges and issues facing the industry include:
  • Customer frustration over drive-thru error rates, menu item customization mistakes, missing condiments, incorrect orders, etc.
  • Operational inefficiency, inconsistent food quality and temperature when collected or delivered. 
  • Less experienced and transient staff; lack of interpersonal skills and customer-first culture.
  • Continued safety, security and drive-thru traffic improvements, as well as productive, sustainable use of real estate locations.

Get Involved

If you would like to share insights to the ongoing conversation or submit compelling content on this topic please contact:
Bryan DeRose, SVP, Business & Program Operations (


Market Sector Facts:

  • Quick service restaurant market is a $350 billion; 198,000 outlets (Statista)
  • 60-70% of fast food sales come from the drive-thru channel
  • Americans visit drive-thru lanes some six billion times a year
  • 83% of American families feast on fast food at least once weekly
  • 84 million people consume fast food daily (CDC)
  • Average wait time in DTRs is 5 minutes and 43 seconds
  • 2,000 unique foodservice chains offer 125 cuisine types
  • States with highest fast food consumption include AL, NE, WV, OK, and TN




Curated Facts & Stats

Over the past couple of years, drive thru has been undergoing a renaissance and is expanding to (and thriving in) new categories like pizza and coffee, while becoming a center of tech and real-estate innovation for the entire restaurant industry.

Source: NRN

A common theme across the 2023 drive-thru sector appears to be streamlined operations. Pulsing fixes like AI and voice ordering are as much a tool to improve employee experience as they are to correct the labor line.

Source: QSR Magazine

According to a survey conducted by Square, 100% of restaurant owner respondents reported that automation and technology have improved their business, and over half of respondents plan to increase their spending on technology and automation tools in 2024.

Source: Alpha Sense

Among all revenue channels, the drive-thru is the best performer. Overall net sales were up an average of 24.95% in FH 2023 compared to FH 2019. If fast-food restaurants optimize this channel and make the most of any significant investments made—it’s likely to continue to prove worth it.

Source: Revenue Manage

The fast food customer experience is so central to American culture that a 2018 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found that 37% of Americans eat fast food every single day.

Source: Toast