Cross-industries innovation: How Formula 1 has impacted fast-food dining

EHL Students - Bachelor | 8 Aug, 2016

Transferring concepts and technologies from one industry to another can be an ingenious way to stay ahead of the game or bring innovation to a specific line of business. This second episode of our “cross-industries innovation” series will show you how far creativity can go when one studies the hospitality industry.

If you are a Grand Prix or a formula 1 auto race enthusiast, you know all about the famous pit stops. For the non-experts, it refers to when a vehicle stops at a stand for refuelling, change tires, make mechanical adjustments, etc. In fact, it is an important factor in the win or loss of a race. It therefore needs to be carefully coordinated and precisely timed to make each second count.

Does it sound familiar? You are driving your car, probably in a rush to work, and have the need to stop for a quick bite, a drink or to grab a coffee. The process should be fast and efficient.

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Probably the first brand that comes to mind when one think of drive-thru is McDonald's. If the company was a precursor on many aspects, it is also one to take advantage of many innovations and bring them to light thanks to economy of scale. Actually, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the first McDonald’s drive-thru opened up when, smaller chains, like Jack-in-the-Box, adopted the concept as early as the mid-1960s.

The drive-thru's impact was felt beyond the food industry. Evidently, it forced quick-service restaurants to adapt their menus to the pace of service required by the concept. But it also had impact on the automobile industry with the integration of cup holders in cars for example.

Over the years, the fast food industry has greatly evolved around this innovation. New food offering were introduced: burgers were no longer the only option but drip-free tacos and boneless fried chicken made their entry on the market. Most importantly, new processes were put in place, to constantly evaluate the drive-thru performance (average time to service a customer, accuracy of the order, etc.) and improve on the results by having multiple windows or separate cashiers for example.

And this is probably what keeps customers coming back to places like McDonald’s and Taco Bell despite the trend on health and organic options: the convenience, accuracy and timing of drive-thru.

Certainly, much have changed since the first drive-thru-focused chain, Jack-in-the-Box, opened in 1951. This concept has evolved steadily, increasing popularity among all customer segments. But companies featuring drive-thrus need to adapt to the latest trends if they want to survive. According to a survey conducted by AYTM, 81% of respondents are satisfied with the convenience factor of drive-thru restaurants but just 45% are satisfied with the amount of healthy options available in these establishments.

Will the future of drive-thrus feature a healthier food selection? And what about technology? Will it be implemented to serve the younger generation?

50 years ago, drive-thrus were a disruptive innovation in the food industry but whether or not they will keep being successful depends on their ability to adapt to our fast-changing environment.

Author: Paola Bellia - EHL Bachelor Student

Read the first episode of this blog series: What can restaurants learn from airports?

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