Drive-Thru Shopping Grows During Pandemic

Convenience, speed and social distancing are the benefits. 

September 03, 2020

CHICAGO—Drive-thru restaurants offer convenience and speed, but during the pandemic—especially during the recent period of mandated dine-in closures—they were also a lifeline for the restaurants that had them, reports The NPD Group.

Visits to drive-thru restaurant increased by 26% in the April, May and June quarter and represented 42% of all restaurant visits. In July when more restaurants reopened, drive-thru visits still increased by 13%, the highest visit increase among the service modes of on-premises, carry-out, and delivery, according to NPD’s daily tracking of restaurants and other foodservice operations.  

Traditional QSR chains have the majority of drive-thrus, and although visits declined during the second calendar quarter, that segment fared far better than other foodservice categories and segments.

Although they outpaced the U.S. restaurant industry in visit and unit growth before the pandemic, many fast-casual restaurants don’t offer drive-thru services. Those operations experienced steeper declines in the second calendar quarter, down 26%, than traditional quick service restaurants. Full-service restaurants, most of which don’t have drive-thru, saw traffic declines by 48% in April, May and June with a decline improvement in July to 32%.

“Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Fast casual and traditional quick-service chains have already announced expansion plans for their drive-thru operations, and we will hear more chains doing the same. Drive-thru and other off-premises operations will be a major part of the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery and future.”

The trend is not going unnoticed by c-stores. As NACS Daily recently reported, the Wawa chain based in Pennsylvania is building its first-ever drive-thru and curbside-pickup-only c-store. The 1,850-square-foot location will open in Falls Township, Pennsylvania, before the end of the year. 

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