I not only know, but also love the fast food drive-thru business.
Before joining Qore Performance®, I worked with Chick-fil-A for over 9 years. My work with them started at the age of 14 at the front counters, and by 18 I was promoted to Director of Operations. The cornerstone of Chick-fil-A’s business model is a dedication to customer service. In order to improve the customer experience and keep drive-thru times down, Chick-fil-A is constantly increasing the number of employees working outside.
More and more, you now see team members walking from car to car with tablets in hand, taking orders and even accepting payments. This new drive-thru system works great when it is 70 degrees F and partly cloudy, but starts to break down when the weather turns extreme in either direction, making employee safety and comfort a huge challenge.
Warming Solutions for Drive-Thru Employees
As part of the management team in charge of finding and implementing safety products for drive-thru workers, I became well versed in available cooling and warming solutions. With October coming to a close, the weather has started to cool, and managers everywhere are looking for ways to keep their employees warm. What follows is a summary of my experience with some of these products. These options are not Chick-fil-A specific and can help owners/operators in any drive-thru business keep their employees warm.
|Drive-Thru Warming Solutions
|1. Warm Clothing
|2. Heated Jackets
|3. Air Activated Heat Packs
|4. IceVest HiVis Safety Vest
|5. Pop-up Tents
|6. Space Heaters
|7. Warm Drinks
1. Warm Clothing: 💲💲
Drive-thru team members are encouraged to dress in warm layers as a first line of defense against the cold. Thermal long underwear or even a ski bib can be helpful in this regard. Depending on conditions, a heavy jacket may be necessary. Gloves, scarves, and hats can supplement, keeping hands, necks, and heads warm. Chick-fil-A has a branded apparel line through OOBE, which provides winter weather apparel as well.
Staying compliant with safety standards can be tricky as the weather cools. Avoid covering up safety and reflective gear and encourage clothing that can be worn under required safety apparel. As an employer, it’s important to educate your employees so they come to work prepared to stay warm and compliant.
2. Heated Jackets: 💲💲
When typical warm clothing is not sufficient, many Chick-fil-As have purchased heated jackets for their team members. Gobi Heat provides two popular options. The Sahara Mens 3 Zone Heated Jacket provides heating on the chest and the back and can be adjusted to three different settings (there is a women’s version here).
The second choice is the Flash HIVIS Reflective Heated Jacket. This jacket has similar heating functionality but includes a hood and safety stripping. Some heated jackets have been shown to lose their charge quickly, can be bulky, and often times require you to buy separate battery packs just to keep them operational, so take your time researching different options.
3. Air Activated Heat Packs: 💲
A drive-thru employee’s hands are their most important asset when interacting with customers. Cold hands become achey, cracked, and uncomfortable, and the order process really slows down as a result.
Many Chick-fil-As use Hot Hands. Hot Hands are activated when you rip the bag open, and reach full heat within about 15 minutes and last for hours. They look like a large tea bag and can be popped into pockets for quick warming. The challenge is that the product is single-use and must be continually repurchased. There are also a variety of other heat packs on the market, of varying prices, that can be used.
4. IceVest HiVis: 💲💲
The IceVest HiVis is a wearable warming solution used by 400+ commercial enterprise locations nationwide, including many QSR (Quick-Serve Restaurant) locations. Each IceVest HiVis includes two IcePlates®, which are worn on the front and back of the body in the accompanying high-visibility Safety Sleeves. The IcePlates are filled with hot water directly from your coffee machine, providing hours of warming to the wearer.
The IceVest HiVis can be shared amongst employees and is easy to store inside the restaurant at the end of the day. Another benefit is its versatility: it’s the only wearable product here that can be used year round to overcome weather challenges (fill with water and freeze in the summer to provide cooling).
We also make a HiVis hand warmer called IceShield. It can be attached to the front of the IceVest HiVis. Your hand warmers of choice (see above) can be placed directly in the back pocket of the IceShield HiVis hand warmer, keeping drive-thru team members’ bodies and hands warm simultaneously. The IceShield HiVis hand warmer protects their hands and reduces the need for cumbersome gloves while working.
(Check out this video of a Drive-Thru employee staying warm @IceHugLife).
5. Pop-up Tents: 💲💲💲
Another common practice amongst Chick-fil-As is the use of pop-up tents to shelter team members from the cold. Wind chill is a huge factor in how cold it actually feels. These tents are typically enclosed on three sides, allowing team members to interact with customers from a sheltered environment, while keeping the wind at bay. Eurmax sells a series of Pop-up Canopies that can meet a variety of needs. TeamPod UnderCover All Weather Sport Pod offers a smaller choice.
Tents take up space, so they only work if you have a lot of area to accommodate them. You’ll also have to drag them in and out every day, so you’ll need a team member assigned to that task. (Some Chick-fil-A restaurants have invested in permanent metal awnings but they can cost upward of $3K). Pop-Up Tents are versatile and can also be used in the summer months, providing shade from the sun.
6. Space Heaters: 💲💲
Space Heaters can also be used to keep team members warm, but be careful as they also can be fire hazards if used incorrectly. Several Chick-fil-As have attached this Electric Patio Heater to the umbrella that sits above the outside cash cart. Make sure you have an electricity source readily available and be warned that space heaters can be expensive to run. This solution does not work for team members who are moving throughout the line but can be powerful for teams who work in stationary positions.
7. Warm Drinks: 💲
Warm water, hot chocolate, coffee, and tea can easily be provided to employees to raise their internal body temperature and keep them warm from the inside out. This practice is the easiest and most obvious to implement. The downside is that drive-thru members typically need both hands available to interact with customers and take orders. Consider organizing a warming station (with your pop-up tents) where team members can keep their hot beverages and take a break when needed.
What other strategies and products have you employed to keep drive-thru employees warm in the winter? What is your rotation schedule? How do you determine it? At what temperature do you no longer allow employees to go outside? What products have worked best for your team? How has the HiVis StayFrosty® Vest increased your team’s performance in the winter months?
We want to hear from you!