A reader thinks fast food restaurants and banks should help people choose between the drive-thru lane and the inside counter

Reader Travis Walker, who previously proposed a nudge to create a routine for medical check-ups and car maintenance, thinks people would appreciate help in deciding whether to use drive-thru lanes.

In an attempt to reduce the time that vehicles spend idling in drive-thrus, I propose a nudge akin to how theme parks manage their lines for more popular rides. Such theme parks indicate how much longer you will have to wait in line simply by placing signs at various points in the line that indicate your estimated wait before you are able to get on the ride. These signs benefit theme park patrons by providing them the means to conduct a quick cost-benefit analysis of either waiting in the line or choosing to go find a different one (presumably one that’s shorter). Applying this principle to traditional drive-thru – such as fast-food restaurants and banks – would be rather easy. You could post signs at various points in the line with estimated wait times or you could even paint the pavement (for example, “If Parked On This Spot Your Estimated Wait is 15 Minutes”). Moreover, these times could be adjusted at various points of the day – maybe Burger King is faster at moving cars through its drive-thru during breakfast than lunch.

This nudge, I feel, would encourage more motorists to park and order their food (make their deposit) from inside vis-à-vis idling in a line with an estimated wait of 15 minutes or more. The result, then, may be a decrease in the use of gasoline and more efficiently run fast-food restaurants and banks. To be sure, there could also be some unintended consequences such as too many people going inside and not utilizing the drive-thru. I foresee a possible reluctance of fast-food restaurants to implement such a policy for fear of losing business (if the wait at McDonalds is an “Estimated 15 Minutes” than maybe customers would go elsewhere for their burger). To conclude, though, I feel that this policy would be a net gain in terms of the decrease in use of gasoline, the time saved by ordering in the lobby, and the overall increase of efficiency from restaurants and banks alike.

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