The Dark Clouds of 2020 Yielded Silver Linings for U.S. Restaurant Industry

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Although the COVID-19 pandemic held the U.S. restaurant industry back in 2020, consumer demand and the ability to serve the demand with digital ordering and off-premises services, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery, will enable the industry to persevere and grow long-term, according to The NPD Group.

“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,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.

Throughout one of the most challenging years for U.S. restaurants, the industry demonstrated its resiliency against a variety of headwinds throughout 2020 by rising from a -35% traffic decline in April to a -11% visit decrease in December compared to year ago, reports The NPD Group. Although mandated dine-in restrictions have held back all restaurant segments, particularly full service, consumer demand for restaurant meals and the ability to serve the demand with a host of off-premises services, like digital ordering, delivery, drive-thru, and carry-out, are the silver linings that enable the industry to persevere.

Restaurant digital orders, which were growing prior to the pandemic, increased by +19% in January of last year to +145% in December compared to year ago, according to NPD’s daily tracking of consumers’ use 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 year ago. Carry-out ended 2020 holding 46% of off-premises order share. Delivery, which was receiving a lot of attention before the pandemic even though carry-out and drive-thru have eight times more order volume, began 2020 with orders up by +1% and ended the year with a triple-digit gain of +137% in orders compared to year ago. Even with the triple-digit gain in orders, delivery still holds the smallest off-premises order share at 11%. Drive-thru, an ordering mode that was already well-developed at quick service restaurant chains when the pandemic hit, increased orders in 2020 from +4% in January to +22% in December versus 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,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “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.”

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About The NPD Group
NPD offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help our clients grow their businesses in a changing world. Over 2,000 companies worldwide rely on us to help them measure, predict, and improve performance across all channels, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and B2B. We have services in 19 countries worldwide, with operations spanning the Americas, Europe, and APAC. Practice areas include apparel, appliances, automotive, beauty, books, B2B technology, consumer technology, e-commerce, fashion accessories, food consumption, foodservice, footwear, home, home improvement, juvenile products, media entertainment, mobile, office supplies, retail, sports, toys, and video games. For more information, visit npd.com. Follow us on Twitter: @npdgroup.

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