For as long as radio's been in cars, there have been drivers not wanting to get out of their cars, especially when it comes to grabbing a quick meal. Drive-thru and delivery, both of which were already preferred to carry-out before the pandemic, have continued to grow in popularity according to The NPD Group's continual tracking of the U.S. restaurant industry.
From February 2020 through February 2022, drive-thru was up 20% and delivery a not-surprising-since-COVID 116%, while carry-out orders, whether digital or non-digital, were off by 2%. Key to delivery and drive-thru's gains was the pandemic-fueled rise of digital ordering, up 117% during that two-year period. While carry-out orders doubled during COVID, these gains were offset by a double-digit decline in non-digital pickup orders accounting for most of pickup orders.
NPD's data shows that in the year ending February 2022, 76% of carry-out orders were non-digital, down by 16% compared to the prior year. Non-digital drive-thru orders, meantime, gained 20% while non-digital delivery, which represents 25% of delivery orders, increased by 25%.
“The convenience of drive-thrus, delivery, and mobile ordering, in addition to dining room closures, have influenced consumers’ willingness to get out of their car, walk into a restaurant, and order to go,” NPD Food Industry Advisor and “Eating Patterns in America” author David Portalatin says. “Convenience rules and the more convenient options will win.”
Both delivery and drive-thru have surely been important to the restaurant chains ranked at the top of NPD's just-released top 50, based on sales estimates representing each chain’s total U.S. system for the year ending December 2021. The top eight - McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Sonic, Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen - retained their rank in terms of dollar sales. “When the pandemic restrictions began, many of these chains already had drive-thrus and other off-premises operations,” Portalatin says. “Their declines weren’t as steep as other chains and independents.”