Parking lots and drive-thrus at quick service restaurants are a hotbed of crimes. How can franchisees protect their property?

Last Updated:
April 10, 2024
| ~
min Read
James Wang
Marketing Writer

Nothing screams Americana more than baseball, apple pie, barbecue, and drive-thrus. There is nothing more satisfying than pulling up to a quick service or fast-food restaurant, ordering a meal, and getting back on the road with your food in tow, all within minutes.

We are a nation of movers and shakers and as it turns out and for many Americans driving is the preferred method of getting around. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are approximately 223,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. Not only are there more of us on the road, but collectively, we are also spending more time in our cars than ever before. AAA numbers indicate that U.S. drivers spent a combined 70 billion hours behind the wheel in 2019 alone.

It makes sense that in a country where so much time is spent behind the wheel that quick service restaurants (QSR) have become increasingly popular. For anyone needing a quick fix to curb their hunger, the allure of QSRs is obvious—the convenience, speed, and comfort of grabbing a bite while never having to leave your climate-controlled vehicle is an underrated if not unmatched experience.

It’s a concept that has gained so much traction that other businesses from coffee shops to pharmacies to banks have all adopted their own version of the drive-thru model. They’ve become so popular that there are an estimated 200,000 drive-thrus throughout the country with Americans frequenting them approximately 6 billion times a year.

While drive-thrus originated in the 1940’s, they’ve experienced a resurgence during the pandemic and have become more popular than ever. Part of the appeal is that they make more profits with less. At leading chains like McDonald’s, drive-thrus accounted for 70% of sales or more in some of the top markets during the pandemic. When you factor in that drive-thrus require less overhead like square footage, staff, and maintenance, you can begin to see why it’s a recipe for success.

However, with the success and profitability, it has also become increasingly dangerous. FBI numbers show that QSR’s are the ninth highest location for violent crimes and according to Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, the rate of assaults at limited-service restaurants is more than twice as high as at full-service restaurants. In fact, the popular burger chain, In-N-Out who is widely credited with bringing the drive-thru concept mainstream, recently decided to close its Oakland, CA store after 54 years in business. Denny Warnick, In-N-Outs’ chief operating officer, said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle that their customers were repeatedly “victimized by car break-ins, property damage, theft and armed robberies,” and cited it as a central reason for the closing of the chain’s only Oakland location.



Drive-thrus can often be poorly lit and are usually designed so that you place your order through a speaker system and then snake towards the rear of the restaurant to pick up your food. The lack of sightlines between the speaker and pickup window can put employees and customers both at a disadvantage when it comes to robberies or other crime. For drivers, there can be numerous blind spots where they can’t be monitored by employees for safety and are unable to survey their surroundings. This allows them to be susceptible to crimes ranging from robberies to car theft to assaults. For employees, they are unable to see or get a read on a situation in advance as, often, their first face to face interaction with people is when they pull up to their window. This eliminates any time to react or defend themselves from a dangerous situation.


One of the biggest draws of drive-thrus are that they are speedy and are open late. Many QSR’s advertise its late hours as a selling point—catering to those with irregular mealtimes or those with the late-night munchies. Yet, the thing that makes them so appealing, also proves to be its Achilles’ heel when it comes to safety.

While drive-thrus can produce brisk business and a steady stream of hungry customers during prime-time hours like lunch and after work, other times it’s a small trickle. During these periods where other customers are few and far between, and less employees may be onsite, there are potentially more vulnerabilities for both customers and employees. Less people also means less eyes and social peer pressure to deter bad behavior, which can be a powerful deterrent to those looking to commit crimes.

In addition, customers who frequent drive-thrus tend to use cash instead of credit cards. This makes QSRs and their employees even bigger targets for robberies since there is more cash on premises.


Many QSRs are located for prime accessibility and therefore are stationed where there is the most traffic. As a result, many drive-thrus are situated close to major highways and intersections. This makes QSRs easy to find but also creates an environment where it’s just as easy to make a quick getaway. Throw in the fact that the perpetrators are already in a moving vehicle, and they already have an expedited escape.


When people roll into a quick service restaurant, they expect the process to be…quick. Professors at the University of Toronto conducted a study that found that even being exposed to logos of fast-food chains created a sense of impatience in people. When fast food isn’t quite fast enough, people can be on edge and tempers can flare. Mix that with congested lines and wait times and it can create a storm of heightened emotions that can lead to increased altercations.

With so many quick service restaurants serving so many communities, it’s not only a vital driver for the economy but it’s also an important job provider, employing roughly 3.8 million people in its ranks. With so many customers passing through and so many employees on the frontlines, QSRs are making safety a top priority.



One of the biggest ways quick service restaurants are moving the needle when it comes to safety is by implementing high resolution mobile surveillance cameras. LVT’s proven security system offers 24/7 remote monitoring so that customer and employee safety can always be kept under a watchful eye while sending a visible message that the area is being protected.

Since the mobile unit is completely wireless and requires no additional power or internet hookups, it allows your system to be completely moveable and set up in minutes. Its flexibility allows it to be deployed anywhere additional security is needed from dark drive-thrus and back alleys to parking lots and around dumpsters.

When a number of QSR locations implemented LVT’s mobile units on their premises, they saw promising and proven results in their ability to deter crime in the following ways:

  • 56% decrease in all incidents
  • 75% decrease in threat incidents
  • 67% decrease in ambulance incidents


Another way to deter crime is to increase the visibility factor when it comes to lighting and landscaping. Make sure that dark areas are illuminated so that customers and employees can see clearly and so potential criminals can’t lurk in the shadows.

Also, ensure that sightlines are always available. Attention should be paid to landscaping by trimming shrubs and trees and being cognizant that signs don’t cover entire windows. It’s important for employees to be able to see out of the windows so that they can help monitor the area. Conversely, it also allows passersby and law enforcement to look into the restaurant which can protect workers and increase employee safety.

With more businesses and restaurants trending toward quick service and drive-thrus, it is more important than ever to keep parking lots and its surrounding areas. By implementing proven security measures such as mobile surveillance units, QSRs can ensure patrons have a safe, speedy, and satisfying drive-thru experience, while actively steering crime away from their businesses.

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