Consumer transactions at restaurants have seen some improvement in the last couple weeks compared to the early days of the pandemic, though not much of it has gone beyond the quick-service restaurant.
NPD released new data today that notes consumer transactions at major U.S. restaurant chains declined 10 percent compared to one year ago for the week ending July 5. That’s a slight uptick from the previous week’s decline of 14 percent.
However, NPD notes that “all of the improvement in the week sources to major quick service restaurant chains, where customer transaction declines improved by 4 points from the prior week’s decline of 13 percent versus year ago.”
That QSRs are seeing the bulk of the improvements shouldn’t surprise. The QSR format is inherently designed to better serve off-premises orders than full-service dine-in restaurants. Even before the pandemic and shelter-in-place mandates upset the entire industry, QSRs were accelerating their efforts to offer more pickup, delivery, and drive-thru capabilities. Starbucks, for example, has said 80 percent of its orders were already to-go before the pandemic. And a large portion of Chipotle’s business has for more than a year now been dedicated to building out off-premises-friendly store formats and developing a robust digital ordering strategy.
Chipotle is a good illustration of how much more quickly and nimbly many QSRs were able to act in the wake of the pandemic compared full-service restaurants. Once social distancing measures went into effect, the chain simply accelerated its existing efforts around off-premises and digital ordering. The result was that Chipotle recorded its highest quarter ever for digital sales in Q1 2020.
The last few months have been a much harder haul for full-service restaurants. NPD reported this week that full service restaurants saw customer transactions down -30 percent compared to one year ago, which is a five-point decline from the previous week.
Author and NPD food industry advisor David Portalatin said that “full-service performance remains largely at the mercy of governmental regulation and the persistence of the coronavirus. For many full-serves, making the pivot to off-premise is far more difficult.”
As of right now, many would-be restaurant customers are still wary of actually sitting down in a dining room to eat a meal. The current spike on coronavirus cases across the U.S. also complicates matters, since some states have had to halt or roll back their reopening plans.
These challenges aren’t going to let up anytime soon, unfortunately. In all likelihood, nobody will be dining out en masse until a vaccine is found and widely administered. By then, consumer behaviors may have shifted to off-premises orders so heavily many people may not want to eat out, at least not on a regular basis. That will present a whole new bucket of challenges for restaurants and restaurant tech companies alike.