Fast and not-so-fast food stocks

Want fries with that? How quickly companies ask can be important to consumers.

By InvestorPlace Oct 9, 2012 1:59PM
Close up of fried chicken finger, copyright AlamyBy Alyssa Oursler

iplogoDrive-thrus aren't just convenient for the many Americans too busy to get out of their cars for dinner, much less make a home-cooked meal -- they also can drive profits.

According to QSR, anywhere from 50% to 70% of sales for countless fast-food companies come via drive-thrus -- a solid chunk considering the industry is worth around $200 billion.

That's a lot of Crunchwrap Supremes and McDoubles being handed out through the windows -- but not all quick-and-easy food service is created equal.

Burger King (BKW), for one, which just recently went public again, struggles with accuracy despite its claim that you can "have it your way." The company not only had the lowest rate of accuracy in a recent study by QSR, but also got even worse since last year.

Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, wears the king's crown in this case, followed by McDonald's (MCD) , Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell and then Wendy's (WEN). And these names all managed to improve their performance year over year.

When it comes to speed, on the other hand, fast food companies across the board are struggling to improve their service times -- partially because fast-food chains simply can't have it all.

Many companies are trying to give consumers more options and more information, but increasingly complex menus inevitably slow down the experience.

McDonald's, for example, added calorie counts to its menu, while Burger King recently added several limited-time items. Even Taco Bell is trying to revamp its reputation with Chipotle-like (CMG) offerings that could play a role in the slowdown.

Why just order your usual combo when you're bombarded with new possibilities?

Wendy's was the only chain to improve its average service time, and has been a solid leader since its record-performance in 2003.

Such stats could also be insightful for hungry investors. Fast food stocks have been struggling all-around this year, but worse service could further hurt sales -- and, of course, stock performance.

So keep an eye out for these numbers -- and not just for days when you're in a hurry for a snack.

You can check out the full list of the fast and not-so-fast chains here.

As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned companies.

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