Restaurants in 2021: Takeout and Delivery is Now Essential to Customers

Curbside was broadly the single-most adopted off-premises jump of the pandemic. At least when you consider what was on the table already (delivery) and what wasn’t (creating a makeshift drive thru in the parking lot of a Texas Roadhouse). It was one of the least capital-intensive offerings operators could stand […]

Curbside was broadly the single-most adopted off-premises jump of the pandemic. At least when you consider what was on the table already (delivery) and what wasn’t (creating a makeshift drive thru in the parking lot of a Texas Roadhouse). It was one of the least capital-intensive offerings operators could stand up during the pandemic. Not to say it was always easy.  

A major slice of restaurants said they added curbside takeout this year, per the Association. Eight in 10 fine dining, family dining, and fast-casual operators did so.

Percentage of restaurant operators who say they added curbside takeout since the beginning of the outbreak in March

  • Family dining: 78 percent
  • Casual dining: 73 percent
  • Fine dining: 81 percent
  • Quick service: 58 percent
  • Fast casual: 77 percent
  • Coffee and snack: 64 percent

 

And if you’re still not convinced, just take a look at the restaurant of the future designs coming from some of the industry’s top chains. Many include not only dedicated curbside parking spots, but also integrated smart kitchen technology that alerts employees of a customer’s impending arrival.

All of this isn’t to discount the impact of delivery. Nearly half of full-service operators introduced delivery in 2020, and slightly fewer fast casual and coffee and snack operators reported similarly, the Association said.

Operators in every segment were more likely to add third-party delivery than set up in-house service. Some did both. This could eventually change now that everyone isn’t grabbing a bucket to throw water on a blazing fire. Third party was the only feasible option to get going in a hurry for many. And, in a lot of cases, it’s still the quickest path to expand reach to an already dedicated customer base. There are pros and cons to both paths, of course. Restaurants simply have more time today to think through it than they did on day two or three, or 30. COVID has stretched a long, long time.

Six in 10 adults said they’re more likely to get their food delivered than they were before the outbreak. For millennials, it’s 71 percent. COVID narrowed the adoption gap.

Nearly two-thirds of current delivery customers said they prefer to order directly from the restaurant; 18 percent prefer to do so through third-party; 18 percent don’t care. Baby Boomers (79 percent) said they prefer to order directly through the restaurant for delivery.

There is opportunity for brands to capitalize on this and soften some of the margin compression tied to third-party delivery. Or commit to offering both, like McAlister’s Deli and others. In addition to avoiding some fees and taking price, white-label delivery allows restaurants to curate customer journeys. McAlister’s president Joe Guith said check averages have been significantly higher through McAlister’s direct delivery. “Because we designed the experience differently,” he told QSR. “We upsell better. We can feature our products in a different way that are more compelling.”

Percentage of restaurant operators who say they added delivery since the beginning of COVID-19

  • Family dining: 46 percent
  • Casual dining: 44 percent
  • Fine dining: 46 percent
  • Quick service: 31 percent
  • Fast casual: 44 percent
  • Coffee and Snack: 42 percent

 

Percentage of restaurant operators who say they added either third-party or in-house delivery

Family dining

  • Third-party delivery: 33 percent
  • In-house delivery: 21 percent

 

Casual dining

  • Third-party delivery: 31 percent
  • In-house delivery: 21 percent

 

Fine dining

  • Third-party delivery: 30 percent
  • In-house delivery: 24 percent

 

Quick service

  • Third-party delivery: 28 percent
  • In-house delivery: 7 percent

 

Fast casual

  • Third-party delivery: 34 percent
  • In-house delivery: 16 percent

Coffee and snack

  • Third-party delivery: 25 percent
  • In-house delivery: 20 percent

 

Here’s a deeper look at the opportunity with direct delivery.

All adults

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 64 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 18 percent
  • No preference: 18 percent

 

Male

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 64 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 23 percent
  • No preference: 13 percent

 

Female

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 64 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 14 percent
  • No preference: 22 percent

 

Gen Z

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 58 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 22 percent
  • No preference: 20 percent

 

Millennials

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 57 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 27 percent
  • No preference: 16 percent

 

Gen X

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 65 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 17 percent
  • No preference: 18 percent

 

Baby Boomers

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 79 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 3 percent
  • No preference: 18 percent

 

Northeast

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 71 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 20 percent
  • No preference: 9 percent

 

Midwest

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 72 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 15 percent
  • No preference: 14 percent

 

South

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 62 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 19 percent
  • No preference: 19 percent

 

West

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 56 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 19 percent
  • No preference: 25 percent

 

Urban

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 57 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 28 percent
  • No preference: 15 percent

 

Suburban

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 68 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 15 percent
  • No preference: 17 percent

 

Rural

  • Prefer to order direct through the restaurant for delivery: 71 percent
  • Prefer to order through a third-party service for delivery: 6 percent
  • No preference: 24 percent

 

If there’s one category to circle there, it’s rural and suburban communities. Third-party delivery will always enjoy a stronghold in urban metros. But there’s delivery share up for grabs in smaller, more spread-out communities, where customers tend to be more brand loyal than product loyal (in comparison to city centers).

Shifting to drive thru, restaurants weren’t as quick to makeover operations out of the gates. Only between 1–3 percent of brands added drive-thru service. Fast casuals were the exception, at 6 percent. This is more a logistical reaction than anything else. Adding a drive thru takes space, capital, and probably some landlord sign-off. Chipotle has alluded to the latter in recent calls, saying real estate developers are becoming more open to the idea of “Chipotlanes” than before. They want the traffic and trust the investment, and understand the consumer demand. Still, it’s a developing conversation industry-wide, from walk-up windows (even Texas Roadhouse is doing this) to casual off-shots with drive thrus (like Outback’s Aussie Grill). Then, to an earlier point, large quick-serves are reimagining the traditional experience, with or without dining rooms.

Likewise, the rise of ghost kitchens remains a work in progress. Less than 5 percent of operators said they added delivery from a virtual or ghost kitchen since COVID’s onset. And it’s telling that 72 percent of adults said it’s important delivery orders come from a location that they can visit in person, the Association said.

Which brings up a question for the post-COVID world: When choosing a place to order food for delivery, how important is it to you that the food comes from a restaurant, deli or fast-food place that has a physical location accessible to the public?

All adults

  • Very important or somewhat important: 72 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 28 percent

 

Male

  • Very important or somewhat important: 72 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 28 percent

 

Female

  • Very important or somewhat important: 72 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 28 percent

 

Gen Z

  • Very important or somewhat important: 77 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 23 percent

 

Millennials

  • Very important or somewhat important: 76 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 24 percent

 

Gen X

  • Very important or somewhat important: 75 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 25 percent

 

Baby Boomers

  • Very important or somewhat important: 64 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 36 percent

 

Northeast

  • Very important or somewhat important: 82 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 18 percent

 

Midwest

  • Very important or somewhat important: 70 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 30 percent

 

South

  • Very important or somewhat important: 73 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 27 percent

 

West

  • Very important or somewhat important: 64 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 36 percent

Urban

  • Very important or somewhat important: 74 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 26 percent

 

Suburban

  • Very important or somewhat important: 71 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 29 percent

 

Rural

  • Very important or somewhat important: 71 percent
  • Not very important or not at all important: 29 percent

 

The surge in off-premises provided an opportunity for packaging vendors. A solid majority of operators, including 86 percent of fine-dining ones, said they upgraded their takeout and delivery packaging during COVID.

  • Family dining: 78 percent
  • Casual dining: 76 percent
  • Fine dining: 86 percent
  • Quick service: 63 percent
  • Fast casual: 70 percent
  • Coffee and snack: 63 percent

 

Part three of the series, which will be released at a later date, will cover technology adoption, service changes, and marketing trends to emerge from COVID.

Next Post

250 families receive food at Pinckneyville food fair | Local News

Support Local Journalism Your membership makes our reporting possible. {{featured_button_text}} George Culley of Least of the Brethren Food Ministry believes the food fair is one way the group is living out their motto: Jesus’ hands feed the hungry. Least of the Brethren has sponsored 18 food fairs with St. Louis […]