13 Common Habits You Should Avoid in the Drive-Thru

Love to save time by using the drive-thru rather than going inside? You definitely won't want to slow down the line!

1 / 13
Drive thru fast food restaurant.(motion blur)

Not Knowing Your Order

Think of the drive-thru as the express lane of the restaurant. Don’t know what you want? Need some time to decide? That’s totally fine—just go inside so you can take your time, ask questions and so on without slowing down the express lane.

Some restaurants even measure the time it takes their staff to process each car’s order, so slower cars can actually affect a worker’s performance rating. See what fast food chain has the fastest drive-thru.

2 / 13
Outside view of a beautiful family driving in automobile
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Making It Hard to Hear Your Order

Your turn to order? Pull up and talk clearly into the speaker. Don’t mumble or face the back seat while ordering. Likewise, don’t yell or shout into the speaker. That’s just bad manners.

One of the top pet peeves of drive-thru workers? Having everyone in the car say their own order, especially your kids. It’s hard to hear, which slows things down and increases the likelihood of a mistake in your order.

3 / 13
Drive Thru Sign
DNY59/Getty Images Plus

Don’t Interrupt the Order-Taker

You know this one. It’s just bad manners to interrupt. Let the cashier tell you what the Flavor of the Day is at Culver’s first (even if you’re not interested). Chances are these extra tidbits of information are just part of their job. Wait until the order-taker is done with their greeting (or questions) and then place your order.

4 / 13
Busy woman is in a hurry, she does not have time, she is going to eat snack on the go. Worker eating and talking on the phone at the same time.
Estrada Anton/Shutterstock

Talking on the Phone

If you must chat on the phone in the drive-thru, take a pause in the conversation to place your order. It’s confusing for the worker to parse out which words are directed to her. Wait until the entire transaction is finished, so you’re sure to hear them repeat back the order, give the total and so on. McDonald’s is ready to make a huge change to its drive-thrus.

5 / 13
Take coffee to work for the entire office. High angle shot of a cardboard take out tray with four coffee cups with lids.

Ordering for a Crowd

Again, the drive-thru is like the express lane. It should be quick and streamlined. If you’re going to order for a huge group, especially if there are any special requests in the mix, be courteous to your fellow drivers and go inside.

6 / 13
Enjoying their lunch in the car. Four beautiful young cheerful women looking at each other with smile and eating take out food while sitting in car
G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock

Splitting the Check Between Car Passengers

Grabbing food with a group of friends? If everyone is paying separately, then go inside. Creating a separate tab for everyone in a car, or trying to split a bill over multiple cards, is difficult and slows down the drive-thru line. Here’s a healthy option to order at every fast food chain.

7 / 13
Drive thru lane on the day time

Failing to Pull Ahead Promptly

Keep the flow of cars moving! When it’s your turn to order, pull right up. When you’re told to proceed to the next window, hop to it. And make sure to stay close enough to the window to make it easy to pass back and forth food bags and credit cards.

8 / 13
McDonald's drive-thru
Seika Chujo/Shutterstock

Changing Your Order At the Window

Once you’ve pulled up to the window, the restaurant is already preparing your food. Changing your order is effectively making them start over—again, a major slowdown. If you need to get a different item, it’s probably best to park and head inside.

Need extra items? (Think extra napkins, cream in your coffee, etc.) That’s OK, just ask right away.

9 / 13
Young Woman Using Smartphone
PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/gettyimages

Idling at the Window, Even to be Friendly

Whether you’re checking the items in your order, fumbling for your wallet or fiddling with the radio, it’s a major faux pas to dawdle at the pick-up window. It’s even bad form to chat with the worker. It’s nice to say good morning or evening but then stick to business. See all the polite habits that fast food employees secretly dislike.

10 / 13
Fast food employee and customer hands in a transaction at the drive thru
Raymond Deleon/Shutterstock

Being Unprepared to Pay

Are you one of those people who takes pride in offering exact change? If so, get those bills and coins ready to go as soon as you hear your total. Otherwise, cards are quicker. Psst: This is what McDonald’s employees aren’t telling you.

11 / 13
Two trendy attractive young woman singing along to the music as they drive along in the car through town viewed through the open side window
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

Playing Music Loudly

Even a quiet radio can make it hard for an employee to hear your order over those crackly speaker systems. Turn it off when ordering, and don’t blast loud music when you’re waiting in line, as it can interfere with other customers’ hearing or ordering.

12 / 13
NeonJellyfish / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Changing (or Adding to) Your Order at the Window

Making changes to your order after you’ve left the speaker is a no-no. Adding items once you’re up to the window is going to slow the whole drive-thru down. Remember: It’s an express lane, not a sit-down experience. The one exception here would be something quick like adding on a soda or asking for a dipping sauce you forgot.

13 / 13

Young woman sitting in her car eating fast food and drinking soda and coffee. In a rush, multi tasking, eating take out burger, french fries and dessert while driving a car. Paying with credit card at drive through. Receiving a receipt and ordered food.
Ziga Plahutar/gettyimages

Paying It Forward

Paying it forward happens when someone chooses to pay for their own order and the order of the person behind them, and so on, forming a chain where everyone pays for the next person’s order. It’s a nice gesture and can brighten the days of both customers and employees. But it’s a headache for already underpaid fast food workers or baristas, who have to deal with figuring who’s paying for what order, especially around holiday time when lines are long and such gestures are common. If someone pays for your order, appreciate the gesture, and then pay it forward by leaving a big tip for the person serving you that day.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.