Stephanie Allmon of the Waco Tribune-Herald (Waco, TX) recently wrote an interesting article titled "We Americans want our food NOW and fast-food is trying to kick up the pace". The article discusses the fact that many fast food chains are catering to time sensitive Americans by offering unique payment methods, timers at the counters and drive-thru windows, etc.
I believe time is a component of convenience. For some, it is extremely important. In this day and age, time truly is money for some people. Many restaurants who promote speedy service have increased business, especially during the lunch crunch.
However, in some parts of the U.S., fast food chains have successfully counter- programmed their marketing with messages like "We don't make it until you order it" (Jack In The Box). In the laid back Southern California culture where I grew up, for example, chains like In-N-Out Burger have made a 20+ minute drive-thru wait the norm. Instead of quick service, these chains emphasize the quality and freshness of their products.
McDonald's recently attempted to combine the best of both worlds, made-fresh-to-order service with McDonald's famous fast service. The results were mixed at best. Despite investing in remodeled kitchens to streamline the assembly process, it seems McDonald's patrons value speed over any perceived improvements in quality.
It will be interesting to watch these two opposing trends play out over the next year or so. Will more restaurants experiment with the fresh-to-order model, risking alienation of their convenience mantra? Or will we see even more innovative ways to get food to customers quicker? Time will tell.