Last Call: The “most popular” drive-thru in America

Marnie Shure
·2 min read

Here’s a tip: If you ever receive a promotional email whose subject line begins with “It’s official!”, know that whatever the email contains is probably not objective, authoritative, comprehensive, exhaustive, or even all that concerned with trying to be any of those things. The best we can usually hope for is “data-driven,” meaning that a pile of search terms were mined from Google Trends and interpreted for maximum effect. But you know what? Fun is fun, and we all love scrutinizing infographics, particularly ones that don’t deliver the results we were expecting. So let’s allow ourselves a few minutes to gaze at the shocking amount of green on this map.

Map displaying "The Most Popular Drive Thru Choices in America"
Map displaying "The Most Popular Drive Thru Choices in America"

Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks. The study was conducted by the Pentagon Motor Group, a UK-based car dealership. (The reasons a motor company would have for wanting to better understand motorists’ drive-thru behaviors are, I assume, innumerable.) The company’s methodology is described thusly:

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Pentagon Motor Group combined a variety of Google search terms related to drive-thrus from the last 12 months (February 2020-January 2021) to work out the most popular brands in the US.

I’d love to know what the search terms were—presumably some combination of “Starbucks near me,” “McDonald’s Chicken Sandwich,” “Best fast fish,” and “Why oh why did the fast food gods take all-day breakfast away from me.” But whatever the case, Pentagon sifted through 18 million Google searches, and coffee won out in nearly every state. Maybe I’m biased because I didn’t encounter a Starbucks drive-thru until I was 25, but I don’t really believe that these results indicate that Starbucks’ drive-thru is “more popular” than the one at McDonald’s. One thought: maybe Starbucks orders are typically smaller and fulfilled faster than what customers order at other fast food joints, leading to a natural increase in drive-thru volume. Or maybe the Starbucks menu is fussier, meaning people have to Google their preferred Starbucks order more often to check which locations have the desired seasonal items? Or maybe fewer people take to Google Reviews to complain about Starbucks drive-thru experiences, versus McDonald’s? I don’t know. But enough of my guesswork. Here’s what the search data indicated, according to the study:

The USA’s Top 10 Most Popular Drive-Thrus

  1. Starbucks

  2. McDonald’s

  3. Dunkin’ Donuts

  4. Panda Express

  5. Subway

  6. Panera

  7. Dairy Queen

  8. Popeyes

  9. Taco Bell

  10. Chipotle

I’ll be honest, I’ve only used the drive-thru lane at four or five of these places. (If I’m going to Panera, it’s a social event, okay?) But also... where the hell is Burger King? And Wendy’s?! Something is seriously off here. Maybe a more illuminating set of data is the one we can glean from Takeout readers. Which drive-thru on this list (or not on this list) has the number-one spot in your heart?