Digital ordering, drive-thru and carry-out help drive growth for restaurant industry

Throughout 2020, U.S. restaurants demonstrated resiliency against a variety of issues and rose from a 35% traffic decline in April to a 11% visit decrease in December, compared to year ago, reports The NPD Group, according to a press release.

Although mandated dine-in restrictions have affected all restaurant segments, particularly full service, the ability to serve consumer demand for restaurant meals with a host of off-premises services, like digital ordering, delivery, drive-thru and carry-out, has been the silver lining for this industry.

Restaurant digital orders were increasing prior to the pandemic, but then increased by 19% in January of 2020 to 145% in December compared to year ago, according to NPD’s daily tracking of consumers’ use of restaurants and other foodservice outlets. Like digital ordering, carry-out, delivery and drive-thru were also growing before the pandemic.

Carry-out, which represents the largest share of off-premises modes, increased orders by 3% in January 2020 and by 10% in December, versus a year ago. Carry-out ended 2020 holding 46% of off-premises order share.

Delivery was popular before the pandemic began in 2020 with orders up by 1% and ended the year with a triple-digit gain of 137% in orders compared to a year ago. Even with the triple-digit gain in orders, delivery still holds the smallest off-premises order share at 11%, while carry-out and drive-thru have eight times more order volume.

Drive-thru, an ordering mode already established at quick service restaurant chains when the pandemic hit, increased orders in 2020 by 4% in January to 22% in December versus a year ago and ended the year with a 44% share of off-premises orders.

“Digital orders for pick-up and all off-premises modes will be a growth engine for the U.S. restaurant industry moving forward,” David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America, said in the press release. “Consumers, both new and former users, have now experienced the convenience of digital ordering, especially for carry-out and delivery, and will continue using these services long after the pandemic is over.”