Why Looking At The Menu Is Bad Drive-Thru Etiquette

Etiquette is a philosophy of good conduct, while manners are the actual behaviors that reflect that philosophy. The former is never-changing, while the latter — good or bad manners — can change according to situation or context. This idea is important to remember because some of the things we've been brought up to believe are good manners can be the complete opposite in another context.

It sounds complicated, but it's really not. Drive-thru lanes have a protocol all their own, with good manners that may sound arcane or unusual to some but are nevertheless appreciated by employees and one's fellow drive-thru customers. Like having your money ready in advance, so you don't hold up the line searching for the correct change.

Drive-thru etiquette often defies conventional logic, and many behaviors that would be considered polite and good manners inside a fast-food restaurant are considered a no-no for those ordering from inside their vehicles. Looking at the menu, for instance. How can deciding what to order be considered bad etiquette? Because if you're in the drive-thru lane, you should already know what you intend to order before you pull up to the speaker.

The ins and outs of drive-thru etiquette

The drive-thru, like another 20th-century invention, the drive-in, was designed to deliver faster service. No surprise, then, almost all drive-dru etiquette reflects this desire for fast-moving service. That's why drive-thru etiquette dictates that you put away your phone and turn off the radio before you enter a drive-thru lane and that you have your money or credit card in hand when you pull up to the window. The goal is expedited service; anything you do to slow down service for others in line will be considered bad manners.

Yes, this includes looking at the menu. This etiquette rule has a little wiggle room, but not much. If new items have been added to the menu that you're unfamiliar with, or you're visiting a fast food restaurant for the first time, a very brief menu perusal is acceptable. If you need more time than that, then you shouldn't be in the drive-thru lane. You should be inside the restaurant with those who prefer a more leisurely dining experience. Every fast food chain has an online menu. Read it beforehand if you're unsure of what you want. There's no room for uncertainty in the drive-thru lane.

Brusqueness is a virtue in drive-thru lanes

There is always time for a please or thank you. The manners you were raised with aren't totally useless in a drive-thru situation. But in general, one should be as clipped and terse as possible so you don't slow down service and inconvenience others waiting in line. You should also speak in a louder voice than normal. If the person taking the order has to ask you to repeat it, you have committed an act of rudeness on par with pausing to read the menu.

Requesting condiments when you order your food is also good drive-thru etiquette. It prevents asking for them at the window, which slows down service. This is not as bad, however, as rolling up to the window and deciding you'd like to make some last-minute changes. This person is an affront to good manners, as are those who try to start friendly conversations with employees working the window. Friendliness isn't a virtue in drive-thru service, which is why this form of dining etiquette is unlike any other. Keep the line moving. This is the politest form of drive-thru behavior and the most considerate gesture to fast-food employees and fellow customers.