Drive-Thrus Won’t Overtake Dining In

McDonald’s CEO says on-premise dining isn’t going anywhere, even though off-premise growth surged during the pandemic.

June 21, 2021

People eating inside a restaurant

NEW YORK—CNBC reported last week that McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski expects on-premise dining to bounce back, even as digital ordering and drive-thru sales continue to grow across the quick-service industry.

“I think dine-in is always going to be here,” Kempczinski said in a CNBC Evolve Conference panel. “Eating is such a social experience and dine-in is a part of that social experience.” However, he suggested that the shift won’t be overnight. “I think in the U.S., we may see dine-in take longer to recover,” he said, adding, “But we know and we’re certainly expecting that dine-in is also going to be an important part of the McDonald’s experience.”

Kempczinski said that dine-in customers make up about a quarter of U.S. sales at McDonald’s. U.S. same-store sales bounced back by the third quarter of 2020, and the company reported U.S. same-store sales growth of 13.6% during the first quarter of 2021.

Time will tell which consumer behaviors will change as pandemic restrictions ease this summer. That said, food retail has experienced seismic shifts since March 2020 that are leading to new innovations and rethinking tried-and-true formats.

QSRs like Taco Bell are redesigning restaurants to capture more sales through the drive-thru and embracing digital-ordering-centric designs. Shake Shack also unveiled a plan to launch a new drive-thru service in 2021 called the “Shack Track” experience, which will include enhanced digital ordering and food pickup via a drive-up or walk-up window, curbside service or in-store pickup shelves, the company said.

Convenience retailers have also upped their drive-thru strategies. In December 2020, Wawa opened its first drive-thru at one of its stores in Westhampton Township, New Jersey, and earlier this year Wawa opened its first stand-alone drive-thru in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.