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Thursday, December 06, 2007
Sitting In The Drive Thru Lane...
...Drive-thru lanes are supposed to be convenient, right? Make it easy for people to get their food or money (if your bank has one) and be on your way.

So when does it cross over to being a time sink?

Case in point - I visit a Starbucks on the way to the office almost every day. Simple order - grande hot tea, Zen, two bags. Lately it's been Joy instead of Zen because it's the Christmas tea and I like the blend of black, green and oolong, but I digress.

I used to pass this particular Starbucks at 5:30 in the morning. That was the perfect time to get in line at the drive-thru as there were usually only one or two cars. Or just me. Now I pass it around 7:30 in the morning and the story is totally different. I'd be the 8th or 9th car back and it would take about 10 minutes (or more) to get through that lane.

So I decided to try and experiment. One morning I counted that I would be car #10 in line from the window (and #8 from the speaker where I place my order) so I decided to see if I'd save time by going inside and ordering. I parked, I walked in, I was 6th in line at the counter. And I waited. And I watched the cars in the line at the drive-thru, remembering what car I would be behind. And I moved in my line and ordered my tea.

That's the beauty of ordering tea - they can give it to you right there at the counter and you don't have to wait for someone to froth something or heat something or syrup something. It's right there and you're good to go. So I walked out and noticed that the car that I would have been behind had just made it to the speaker to place their order. And their order was involved with a couple of froth this, half-caf that sorts of things. Things that would hold up the drive-thru line for a few minutes.

And I smiled. I've sat in the drive thru *once* since that morning and only because there were only three cars in line. Unfortunately the one in front of me was a $13 order because she had 3 of those froth this, low-fat that, shot of espresso, mocha latte sorts of drinks. I still think that I made pretty good time that day.

But it's become a game with me now in the mornings - note which car I would have been behind and figure out if I would make it into my car and driving away before that car gets to the window. I felt great the other day when the car that I would have been behind had just made it to the speaker when I was driving away. This morning I would have been behind a police officer who actually let one car get in front of him. I walked in and found I was about 13th in line - and I *still* made it out of there and was driving away when the police officer finally left the drive-thru with his order.

Scary, it is. And I've seen it everywhere. It doesn't hit you as hard at a fast food restaurant because people will place orders inside and outside and special orders happen and fries aren't ready because someone forgot to put more in the fryer (and those take time). Starbucks hasn't quite gotten the same efficiencies down as a fast food place, but maybe they'll get there. Even so, sometimes you're better off walking into a fast food place to order than going through the convenience lane.

Meanwhile, I'll keep getting out of my car and getting my tea by taking a short walk instead of sitting in the drive-thru, which really isn't saving me any time at all.