Study shows how important a two-minute wait is for order-ahead

Data from Rakuten Ready ties two-minute marker to loyalty, repeat business

Two minutes may be one of the most important blocks of time restaurants and retailers should heed in the coming decade. Why? Because two minutes make the difference between a customer’s satisfaction or disappointment with their order-ahead experience. Two minutes will determine whether a customer decides to make repeat visits at the same restaurant or consider the competition, instead. These are findings of a recent Rakuten Ready study.

Rakuten, the company behind the Rakuten Ready mobile app, which enables customers to order ahead at various restaurants and retailers, conducted research on customer experiences and preferences at order-ahead venues. First they split vendors into three industries: restaurants, retail and grocery. Next, they designated three order-pickup categories:

  • Attended in-store pickup
  • Unattended in-store pickup
  • Curbside pickup

Secret shoppers were dispatched to order ahead at restaurants, retailers and grocers. The following restaurants were looked at during the study (nearly all were quick-service):

  • Chick-fil-A
  • Chipotle
  • Dunkin’
  • Five Guys
  • McDonald’s
  • Panera
  • Pizza Hut
  • Starbucks
  • Taco Bell

“Across tens of millions of orders captured by Rakuten Ready,” the study reported, “the data very clearly shows that customers who wait less than two minutes to receive their order are 4 times more likely to reorder in the future than customers who wait 10 minutes.” In other words, restaurants that don’t serve order-ahead customers in two minutes or less are likely to lose those customers on their next order-ahead visit.

Attended in-store pickup

There are certainly good reasons for customers to use in-restaurant pickup. The delivery experience can fall short in many ways. Thirty-five percent of those ordering delivery say that there was a problem with their food order. Attended in-store pickup is takeout with customers being helped by an employee. Across retail and restaurants, 54 percent of attended in-store pickup orders achieved the below-two-minute pickup threshold. However, 21 percent of orders took longer than four minutes.

QSRs showed much promise, but the overall average wait time was still 2:28, with 58 percent of all orders ready in two minutes or less. More than three-quarters of the orders were ready in four minutes or less (78 percent). That was significantly better than retail, which timed in at an average 3:34. Only 35 percent of retail orders were ready in less than two minutes.

Starbucks and Taco Bell lead the QSR pack when it comes to order-ahead in-store pickup. Image by Eatery Pulse Media.
Starbucks and Taco Bell lead the QSR pack when it comes to order-ahead in-store pickup. Image by Eatery Pulse Media.

Of the QSRs, Taco Bell and Starbucks were at the top of their game with wait times of two minutes or less. Pizza Hut, Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Five Guys and McDonald’s made the second tier of wait times by coming in at less than four minutes. Starbucks provided the fastest attended in-store pickup time of 1:15.

Who was the slowest? McDonald’s, surprisingly, with the average order timed at 3:19. Rakuten notes that we are living in the NOW Economy, with consumers looking for efficient ordering and service. Taco Bell is a leader in the attended in-store pickup category. A total of 80 percent of orders were ready in less than two minutes and 92 percent of orders were ready in less than four minutes.

Unattended in-store pickup

This type of restaurant experience allows customers to bypass the line and pick up their orders in a designated spot or marked clearly as “order ahead.” The drawback with this type or order, notes Rakuten, is that shoppers don’t get the full customer experience and may not be able to gauge the true freshness of their order.

Millennial and Gen Z customers often love this type of order as it maximizes efficiency and leverages handheld technology. Only three QSRs offered unattended pickup, and therefore were part of the Rakuten study. Significantly, 83 percent of the orders across the three chains were ready in less than two minutes. And 93 percent of the orders were ready in four minutes or less.

In this ordering category, Chipotle made its mark. A total of 88 percent of orders were ready in two minutes or less. While some orders were ready earlier than their scheduled time, secret shoppers also noted that some of the orders were cold and not as fresh. This indicates that precision and order prep/ticket management could improve vastly with respect to ready unattended pickup orders.

Curbside pickup orders

In this ordering category, customers use specified curbside lanes or “fly-through” lanes to pick up orders. Employees need to be aware of the arrival times of customers and be ready for them, according to Rakuten. Curbside was found to be more complex and the average wait times reflect it. Even for QSR, the average wait time clocked in at 4:38. Only nine percent of orders were ready in less than two minutes; however 78 percent of orders were ready in less than four minutes.


QSR bested grocery in curbside pickup. For QSR, 74 percent of orders were ready in four minutes or less, while only 66 percent of grocery orders were ready in that timeframe. Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s were the only two QSRs assessed in the study of curbside pickup. Chick-fil-A produced a wait time of under four minutes (3:58), while McDonald’s time averaged over five minutes (5:29).

Order-ahead experience is evolving, needs improvement

Order-ahead is a new and evolving way to dine and shop; restaurants, retailers and grocers have much to learn. Based on the Rakuten study, there are several shortcomings across industries:

  • Limited dedicated parking or clear signage
  • Long customer service lines to get orders
  • Unable to locate order or wasn’t ready
  • Lack of employee training

Restaurants can incorporate solutions to these challenges to make the most of order-ahead. First, recognition of customer perception is vital. In a previous Rakuten study, 95 percent of consumers indicated “my order is ready on time” as the most crucial component of in-store pickup experiences. Now, we also know that the two-minute mark is tremendously important: it’s the difference between losing a customer and quadrupling the chance they will order again.

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