Hunger always seems to strike at the most inconvenient times. It can be late at night while you’re partying with your friends, during a work meeting, or while you’ve got a gaggle of energetic kids in your car — and they all want to know what’s for dinner.
This is why the drive-thru was invented. It’s the perfect way to make fast food even faster (because, obviously, we’re all in a hurry). Of course, there are a lot of people out there who can grind things to a halt due to terrible manners. Think about it: how many times have you pulled into your favorite fast food joint just wanting that double cheeseburger and fries only to be thwarted by the car in front of you? And sometimes, slowing down isn’t even the biggest offense you can commit in the drive-thru.
You may not have realized it, but there is a certain etiquette you should use while using a drive-thru. Sadly, some of us out there are definitely doing it wrong.
Order items from other restaurants
This technically should be a no-brainer, but you might be surprised at how often people mix up their fast food menus on a pretty regular basis, according to Tastemade. Hey, who hasn’t walked into a local, neighborhood coffee shop and accidentally ordered a grande instead of a medium? Or got to the speaker at Wendy’s and ordered chicken McNuggets? You may think the slip is funny (and sometimes it is) — but to the person taking your order, it’s annoying. Drive-thru workers have to be quick and efficient, so ordering "off menu," intentionally or unintentionally, can lead to a lot of confusion. When in doubt, it’s good to use the preview menu to decide on what you want. In fact, take a look at it just in case — even if you think you know what you want — just to make sure you don’t order a Whopper when you meant to say "Big Mac."
Order a ton of items
It’s not uncommon to encounter a car that seems to be ordering enough items to feed a small country. This might be one of the most common reasons why drive-thrus get backed up. Of course, we would never judge someone who has a huge crowd of hungry people waiting for their lunch. We all have to eat, after all. But at the end of the day, all that time you spend ordering a massive list of items, especially if they have modifications like "no pickles" or "extra special sauce," is only going to hold up the line. And that just leads to disgruntled customers behind you — and a drive-thru server who’s struggling to keep things moving along. According to an Ask Reddit thread, many workers agree that those with sizable orders should park and go inside the restaurant. The fast food workers serving you will appreciate it — and so will everyone else in the drive-thru.
Check your order before you pull away
We’ve done it. Chances are, you’ve done it. This is actually such a common behavior, you might not have realized it’s a huge pet peeve of both the people behind you in the line and the drive-thru workers themselves. When most customers do this, they’re really just trying to avoid wasting time by going into the restaurant to correct a wrong order. It might save you some time (and the hassle of parking), but it comes at a cost to the drive-thru worker who just served you. According to a Reddit thread on drive-thru etiquette, most drive-thrus are equipped with a timer that’s set to whatever time goal that restaurant has in place. That timer doesn’t stop when you receive your order — it stops when you pull away. That means that even though you were served in a timely manner, your server may be penalized for the time you spend checking things over. Pull ahead before you start digging through your bag.
Blame the window worker for a wrong order
Every situation is different, but drive-thru employees usually want to get your order right. That’s what they’re paid to do, after all. And the person who takes your order (most likely the person who also hands you your food), is generally only tasked with entering exactly what you tell them into a computer. After that, it’s transmitted to the kitchen and out of their hands, according to one Reddit thread which specifically asked drive-thru employees how everyone can make their lives a little easier. Getting the wrong order is definitely frustrating, and someone certainly made a mistake — but there’s a good chance it wasn’t the person standing in front of you. If you do get the wrong order, try pointing it out politely instead of throwing accusations. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter who made the mistake, only that it gets fixed.
Chat with the drive-thru worker
We shouldn’t have to tell you that you should never be rude to your drive-thru server (or really, to anyone, for that matter). But according to Consumer Reports, we do have to tell you that being too nice is also a thing. Apparently, there are some very social customers who are so endlessly nice to their server that they’re practically having tea and scones with them at the window — even after receiving their food. Everyone involved with the drive-thru, from the employees inside to the customers in line behind you, are in a hurry. This is not the time to tell jokes or ask their life story — or even to find out what exact shade of nail polish they’re using. Take your order, smile, say "thank you" (maybe even throw in a "Have a great day!") and then pull away. Everyone will thank you, trust us.
Be a jerk in the double drive-thru
Restaurants love the double drive-thru. They speed up service, boost profits, and make the line look a lot shorter than it actually is. Can you guess who doesn’t love them? Customers — mostly because no one seems to know what to do once they’ve placed their order and the two lines merge into one. Who goes first, the first person who stopped to place an order, or the first person to finish their order? If you guess wrong, will the wrong car get your food? It can be a tough, stress-inducing call… but actually, the answers are pretty simple. Scott Redler, a co-founder of Freddy’s Frozen Custard, told The Miami Herald that most double drive-thrus take a picture of the car placing an order (smile!), so there’s very little chance your food is going to the wrong person. Redler says to use common driving etiquette to decide who goes first. Basically, take turns — and if someone is determined to go ahead of you, you might as well let them.
Change your order at the window
Are you one of those forgetful types? Chances are you might have accidentally broken this particular, unspoken rule of the drive-thru. If we’re being honest, we all probably have. Hey, sometimes you get a last-minute craving for a strawberry shake (or maybe your willpower finally reached it’s limit right after you placed your order). That’s not a crime, right? Well, turns out, it kind of is. The bottom line is, if you forget something, you’re going to have to grit your teeth, park your car, and go inside to order it. There are a few reasons why this is better etiquette than suddenly asking for another item, or changing your order completely, when you reach the window. First and foremost, changing your order holds up the line — that’s pretty much a given. Also, depending on how the restaurant in question operates, it may force a manager to override your order and start over, according to Tastemade. Don’t be that person!
Talk on your phone
Have you ever gone out with that friend who seems to be constantly texting or taking phone calls? If you find it frustrating just while having a casual conversation, imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who is trying to serve you fast food — the operative word here being "fast." According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, being on your cell phone in the drive-thru (it doesn’t matter if you’re talking or texting) will absolutely slow down the entire drive-thru process. If you need to call home to take orders, do that ahead of time. If you have some important messages to reply to or an unavoidable phone call to make, check that off the to-do list before getting into the line. And if your phone rings while you’re waiting, call them back — it’ll only be a minute or two. It’s not just courteous, it’s also safe driving.
Honk your horn or yell into the speaker box
We all get it: You’re in a hurry. And some people are in so much of a hurry they can’t possibly wait for more than two seconds for their turn to arrive. So, their oh-so-elegant solution is to honk their horn, according to one self-identified fast food worker on the forum, The Straight Dope. As much as dawdlers can wear on your nerves, it’s even more rude to lay on your car horn until everyone in the parking lot across the street can hear you. Plus, being louder isn’t going to make the drive-thru move any faster. On that note, even if you’re not sure employees can hear you, feel free to use your normal voice rather than speaking too softly, or worse, yelling. Drive-thru workers taking your order are wearing headsets. Unless they ask you to speak up, they can hear you loud and clear.
Take forever to decide what you want
You got the craving for fast food. You’ve taken the time to drive all the way to the restaurant. There can’t possibly be a chance that you have no idea what you want to order, right? Well, there are a lot of wishy-washy people out there who just can’t seem to decide between their nuggets or hamburgers. One fast food worker wrote on Spoon University that there are two preview menus at their particular restaurant, which is usually the case at most fast food joints. One menu is for you to stop and decide what you want, and it’s probably located a little further back in line. The other one is for ordering. So, if you’re still unsure what you want when you get in line, try to decide while you’re at the first menu, not the second. This will cut down on lots of "ums" and "uhs" at the speaker. And sadly, your drive-thru server can’t really spend a lot of time answering questions about the menu — if you have questions, go inside.
Have everyone in the car order separately
When there’s a crowded car in front of you in the drive thru, this is the one thing you’re hoping won’t happen. Not only is this a time waster, it’s also very unnecessary. If you want efficient service (and that’s pretty much what the drive-thru is all about), everything needs to go on one ticket, paid for by one person — and please take care of pooling your money before you get to the window. The person who is closest to the speaker should be the one to order for everyone.
One user on a Reddit thread also noted that some notorious offenders of this rule can also be parents who try to coax their child to order their own meals. While this may seem like a nice way to teach a youngster some confidence and social skills, it can be a little awkward at the drive-thru speaker. It’s OK, not everything has to be a learning opportunity. Go ahead and order that Happy Meal for them — or, you know, go inside.
Rummage through your wallet at the last second
If the drive-thru is empty, this might not always be an easy guideline to follow. In which case, you can bend this rule since you’re not inconveniencing anyone. But, in general, if you have even a little bit of a wait, this is a good time to grab your wallet to take out your bank card or cash. Are you seeing a pattern to these rules? It’s all about efficiency. One user on an Ask Reddit thread which specifically requested drive-thru employees’ opinions, said it was one of their biggest customer pet peeves. Some lines to the pick-up window can span several minutes, so what else can you do with that time (certainly not play on your phone)? It beats staring blankly ahead of you, thinking about how hungry you are and how delicious those fries will be. Which they will be… once you pay for them.
Smoke or leave your windshield wipers on
This one may never have crossed your mind, but it’s important. It may seem like you’re several feet away from the pick-up window, but smoke and water-splashes can travel farther than you think. First, if you’re a smoker, it’s common courtesy to put out your cigarette before you reach the drive-thru window in order to stop second hand smoke from wafting into your server’s area. Even if it’s in the ashtray, don’t assume smoke can’t travel out of your car. And on days when it’s pouring rain, which is the best time for some comforting fast food obtained without exiting your car, be sure to turn off your windshield wipers before you get up to the window. Since you’ve stopped momentarily (and most drive-thrus have some sort of cover over the window, you don’t really need them anyway. Plus, you’ll keep your server dry. One drive-thru worker on Reddit said they would be very appreciative if customers would be more aware of this unspoken rule.
Leave your loud stereo or diesel engine on
Just like honking and yelling into the speaker box, any excess noise can bungle your order or even just hurt your drive-thru server’s ears. You definitely wouldn’t love loud engines or thumping car stereos ringing in your head all day. According to one drive-thru worker on Reddit, their headsets actually amplify the sound coming through the speaker — which is why talking at a normal voice is perfectly acceptable. But, what’s not fine is your super loud radio blasting the Top 40 while you’re trying to get your lunch. Even when you’re done ordering, the sound can still make it hard for the worker to hear the next customer. Similarly, cars with diesel engines are especially loud when coming through the drive-thru. In order to have a successful and pain-free experience, simply turn off the engine while you’re at the speaker box. Then, turn it back on when you’re ready to move on. While this may seem like it’s wasting more time, it’s actually a much better alternative than having to repeat yourself.
Ask for freebies
Unless the restaurant has some sort of amazing deal going on, chances are you’re just going to get what you pay for. This is a business, after all, not your mother’s kitchen. Still, many people seem to think they’re entitled to more than that. Ask and you shall receive, right? Wrong. According to a fast food employee on the forum, The Straight Dope, customers should never ask employees to "hook them up" with free food — and they do it more frequently than you might think. Employees can get in trouble for giving away items without their manager’s approval — technically, that’s stealing. Of course, if you have a coupon or a voucher that entitles you to a free item or a discount, by all means, use it. However, you should mention the coupon while you order at the speaker, before pulling up to the window, says one user on The Straight Dope.
Tailgate other cars
Drive-thrus can be a stressful place, which can lead to some sticky driving situations. While it’s very possible to be stuck in a drive-thru traffic jam with cars behind you, honking to make you move forward every possible inch, don’t give in. Inching forward until you’re bumper-to-bumper really doesn’t move the line any faster and can lead to fender benders. Plus, you do not want to be stuck behind a car that suddenly needs to back up and cause a chain reaction. If that grumpy customer behind you thinks they’re having a bad day now, they’ll be in for a big surprise. A good rule of thumb is to just use proper driving etiquette. At the very least, leave a few feet between yourself and the car ahead of you for some wiggle room. However, don’t leave too much room either. According to Diane Gottsman, if you have a car’s length between you and the person in front of you, feel free to pull forward a little.