Americans won’t wait more than four minutes for a slightly less disgusting hamburger

Sixty seconds too much.
Sixty seconds too much.
Image: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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Much of an American fast food chain’s success boils down to one thing: seconds.

The average drive-through order at McDonald’s takes 208.2 seconds, or about three and a half minutes, to complete. That’s a bit slower than rivals Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, and even Wendy’s, which gets each customer through in 169.1 seconds (2.8 minutes) on average, according to data by QSR Magazine. McDonald’s may lag behind because of its newfound commitment to serve fresh beef patties, which take a minute or two longer to cook.

Problem is, Americans aren’t willing to wait those extra few seconds for a better burger. According to a new report by Reuters, some customers are tired of waiting the extra time it takes to cook a fresh patty, and they’re considering taking their business elsewhere.

In his attempt to increase the quality of food at McDonald’s, CEO Steve Easterbrook has shepherded onto the menu fresh beef quarter-pounders. The original quarter-pounder made with frozen beef was already popular (they make up about one-fourth of the total hamburgers sold at the chain), and while people say the fresh beef patties are tastier and juicier, others would rather get in and out faster even it meant eating a stale, pre-cooked patty. Unlike the pre-cooked, frozen options on the McDonald’s menu, the fresh quarter-pounders are made-to-order.

But when the drive-through business accounts for a whopping 70% of McDonald’s US sales, the consumer needs must be prioritized. Avoiding negative customer responses is going to be a careful line for Easterbrook to walk as he attempts to appease investors who want him to keep pace with chains like Panera Bread Company, which have surged in sales (mostly due to healthier food options).

So far this year, McDonald’s share price growth has outpaced almost all its rivals, in part because of Easterbrook’s push for higher-quality products. But if customers continue saying they’d rather sacrifice quality for just a minute more of convenience, the Golden Arches may have to figure out a way to cook those patties faster.