If it seems like more restaurant drive-through lanes are popping up lately, you're not seeing double.
McDonald's stores in Lakeville and Eagan are adding second lanes for ordering. Other restaurants, such as Culver's and Applebees, have also increased their emphasis on catering to motorists.
Both McDonald's stores in Burnsville have double lanes, and the restaurant near County Road 42 and Nicollet Avenue removed some seating and a play area to gain more space for mobile diners about two years ago, said Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association and a Burnsville resident.
"Nationally, there's more drive-through traffic," he said. "Drive-through is particularly good for breakfast. ... People are in a hurry on the way to work. Breakfast is clearly an increasing part of the quick service business."
McDonald's does almost 70 percent of its sales with drive-through customers, said Danya Proud, director of media relations for McDonald's USA, based in Oak Brook, Ill. She said double lanes are a way to better serve customers whose social habits are changing as people start their day earlier, work longer and have longer commutes.
Although single lanes have been around almost as long as McDonald's (55 years), Proud said double lanes started appearing in 2003.
The company has become more aggressive during the past 12 months; in that time, the number of side-by-side drive-throughs has increased about 3 percent, said Jim McCabe, vice president of operations. He said 20 percent, or 2,400, of McDonald's 12,000 U.S. restaurants, have the double lanes. Some restaurants also have added outside order-taking with a handheld device, he added.
"People are more and more pressed for time, and drive-through service offers the convenience and flexibility," McCabe said by e-mail.
Culver's stores in Lakeville and Apple Valley have single drive-through lanes that serve their entire menu but are a bit slower than the Golden Arches giant. "Four minutes or less is our drive-through goal time," said Mike Budde, owner of the stores.
He said drive-through sales have gradually risen from about 40 percent a decade ago to nearly half his business today. "Some items take five minutes to cook," he said. "The key difference is we make it fresh and to order."
McDonald's goal is to serve motorists in 90 seconds from ordering. An independent annual survey of top fast-food stores found McDonald's was the slowest of seven chains checked in 2011. Its time was 184 seconds, while Wendy's was fastest at 145.5 seconds, followed by Taco Bell at a second longer. Wendy's set the drive-through record of 116.2 seconds in 2003, said QSR Magazine, which publishes the survey on its website.
However, Proud said McDonald's measures its service time differently, from the time a customer pays to when the food is received. By that measure, McDonald's restaurants average 69 seconds this year.
Insula Research collects and analyzes the data for QSR. McDonald's is far and away the biggest fast-food server, Insula President Brian Baker said by phone from Columbus, Ohio, and second lanes will definitely improve its time, measured from point of order to food delivery. He said customers generally expect to be served within three or four minutes.
"McDonald's does a tremendous amount of research internally. They are very intelligent about things like this and study and understand before they implement," Baker said. The big company is one of the few chains to push double lanes, he added.
"We try to make their visit as easy and as fast as possible," said Tami Peterman, marketing director for McDonald's Midwest regional office in Bloomington.
Other double-lane McDonald's stores include two near Southtown in Bloomington and stores in Farmington and in Apple Valley. McDonald's is remodeling its Town Center Drive store to be its first double lane in Eagan.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283