Ordering at a Fast Food Restaurant in the US

Posted On: February 18, 2015

Fast food drive thru lane

“I did not order inside a fast food restaurant until I was in the US for a few years!”  

“I did not even attempt to use a drive through for several years after living in the US!”  

These are a few answers my friends from India had to the questions, “How long did you live in the US before you ordered in a fast food restaurant or through a drive through?” Some of the common apprehensions to this were:

  • Not knowing the menu well enough to order
  • Not understanding the American accent well enough
  • Not understanding it when people talk fast (as fast food employees talk fast) 
  • Not able to get out the money in the right denomination ‘fast enough’ (learn more about American coins here
  • Eating in the car while driving (mostly for ordering through a drive thru) 

Although I am an American, I can totally empathize with you if you feel any of these same feelings. Ordering in a fast food restaurant in the US is intimidating without knowing the menu, the accent or understanding when people talk fast. It’s overwhelming, but with practice it can be done! 

Suggestions for Ordering in a Fast Food Restaurant

Understand the Menu 
If you want to go to any fast food restaurant, firstly do not assume the menu items are the same as the ones you may find in the same named restaurants abroad. Even if the menu name is the same, the taste will be different! It may be wise to ask others from your country already in the US their opinion on the food in the restaurant as they probably have similar tastes to you. 

Visit on Off-Hours
Do not go during the busy meal time hours. If possible, go for the first time on a weekend maybe after the lunch rush, about 2:30-3:30pm. This may not be your normal meal time, and that’s understandable. Use this time to read over the menu, then when ready, go up to the counter and place your order. On off hours, the staff may talk slower, there is not so much rush (it’s not so busy), so you can talk slower, and take more time to count the correct change as required. 

If you visit a drive through on off-hours, however, they still may tend to talk faster and expect faster responses from you than in the restaurant at the counter. 

Go with an American Colleague or Friend 
If you think your American friend or coworker can guide you, by all means go along with him or her on the first visit. It’s ok to tell the person that the culture of the country you come from is different, and you’re not used to ordering so fast or talking so fast in English and they will be happy to help you the first few times until you get used to it. 

How Do I Order at a Drive Through 

Menu at an American fast food restaurant
Who wouldn’t get intimated by this? Read the entire thing, select,
and order in one minute, please!
Credit: Michael Cote, flickr

As you approach the speaker of tshe drive through, a menu board will be there. If you need a moment, just note to the person who wants to take your order that you require a moment before ordering. Again, it’s best to do this during a slow time of the day. Once you are ready, slowly and clearly enunciate your order. Even as an American, people on the other end of some drive through microphones would misunderstand me if I talk too fast as the microphones may distort the sounds. (Apply the same skills used to speak clearly over the phone on offshore client calls here, and it’s good as gold!) After you place your order, they will tell you the amount, and what window to pull up to. There may be one window for payment, and the other to collect your order. The process is pretty fast and from the time you order to the time you pay is about 2-5 minutes. Five minutes may be too long in many cases, especially during a lunch rush. 

Take a look at these two YouTube videos that may shed some light into the the drive-thru ordering process. 

Note: If you see a drive through lane, do not block it or drive through in the opposite way. If an accident occurs due to this, whomever is blocking the lane or driving the wrong way will be penalized. 

Please feel free to share your experiences of using drive-throughs or ordering fast food in the US. 

Jennifer Kumar helps your offshore teams prepare for onsite success when visiting the US on business trips. Contact her for more information today. 

Related Posts: 

What Americans Eat for Breakfast 
Rules and mannerisms in more formal restaurants in the US   
Did you take your food? Mealtimes in the US.  
How to Order Food Over the Phone in the US (Take-out or Delivery) 

*Note any businesses discussed in this post are purely coincidental. Authentic Journeys has no ties with any of these businesses nor is Authentic Journeys receiving any advertising revenue from mentioning them here. 
Photo credits noted on the photo. Photos not credited were taken by Jennifer Kumar, blog owner.
Original publishing date: 2/15. Updated 5/2020


Find your Program!

Find your ideal program in just a few clicks.
Select Industry > Learning Level > Skill, to see 1-3 suggested programs.