Restaurant-goers continue to head to the drive-thru in droves, according to new survey data from mobile location tech company Bluedot. In the last month, 91 percent of respondents said they visited the drive-thru. An additional 67 percent are getting curbside pickup “as often or more frequently” now compared to 45 percent from last April.
The data is from the third installment of Bluedot’s four-part “State of What Feeds Us” report examining consumer preferences around the restaurant experience, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. As Bluedot is a restaurant-industry-focused tech company (KFC, McDonald’s, and Dunkin’ are among its clients), a lot of the information in these reports is around mobile app usage. However, the data also examines some broader trends that have been happening in the restaurant biz over the last several months, including those around drive-thru and curbside pickup.
Though drive-thru usage dipped slightly in January 2021, the number of visits “remain strikingly high,” according to the report: “Consumer drive-thru visits dipped slightly from the last report with a decrease to 68% of those visiting as often or more frequently in January from 74% in August.” That 68 percent, however, is still a 26 percent increase from April 2020 in terms of customers regularly going to the drive-thru.
Those numbers are reflected in recent strategies from restaurants — especially QSRs — to focus more on providing solid drive-thru experiences for customers. Chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, which have always relied on drive-thru for a percentage of sales, are redesigning their entire store formats to accommodate more drive-thru orders. Other chains, notably Chipotle and Shake Shack, are adding the format as an important element to their digital strategies for the first time.
Curbside pickup is a newer entrant to the restaurant industry, but from Bluedot’s numbers a no less important one when it comes to customer expectations. A total of 67 percent of consumers are now picking up via curbside compared to just 45 percent in April 2020.
Consumers expect to the restaurant’s app to check them in automatically upon arrival at the restaurant and for the staff to bring out their food. Few chains with curbside pickup actually do this right now. Panera is the one major exception, as the company integrated geofencing technology into its curbside process last year that automatically notifies staff when a customer has arrived.
Automatic checkins enabled by tech would also speed up the entire curbside pickup experience, something consumers feel needs to happen in order to improve the experience. Ditto for drive thru. Bluedot’s survey found that “long wait times and lines are a deal breaker,” with 77 percent of respondents saying they would leave or consider leaving if they see a long line. Additionally, consumers expect to wait no more than six minutes, down from 10 minutes in August.
Providing faster service is an element restaurants of all shapes and sizes will have to continue to prioritize for the foreseeable future. As Bluedot and countless others point out, consumer preference for off-premises formats isn’t going away once the pandemic does. The sheer number of QSRs redesigning their physical spaces to be more to-go-friendly is testament to that. Whether those moves as well as more tech can actually cut wait times down remains to be seen.