Study: Digital and Off-Premises Order Growth Help to Steady Transaction Declines

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Study: Digital and Off-Premises Order Growth Help to Steady Transaction Declines

By Anna Wolfe - 11/12/2020

Customer transaction declines at major U.S. restaurant chains held steady at  -9% every week in October compared to same weeks year ago, reports The NPD Group.  QSRs, which have been able to leverage their off-premises operations during the pandemic, also stabilized transaction declines at  -9% throughout the month.

Full-service restaurant chains saw transaction declines fluctuate from  -16% in the first week of October to  -14% in the last full week of the month, according to NPD’s CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 75 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53% of the commercial restaurant traffic in U.S. 

Helping to stabilize transaction declines in October was the strong growth in digital and off-premises restaurant orders heading into the month. With dine-in operations limited and consumers in search of contactless foodservice, digital restaurant orders from mobile apps, text messages, and the internet grew by  +138% in the July, August, and September quarter compared to same quarter year ago. 

Surging Demand for Off-Prem

Off-premises orders from carry-out, delivery, and drive-thru increased by  +22% in the quarter compared to year ago while on-premises/dine-in declined by  -62%.  Delivery had the strongest visit growth in the quarter, up  +106%, but held the smallest traffic share, 9%, of off-premises services. Carry-out held the largest traffic share at 46% with visits up  +9%, and drive-thru visits grew by  +27% in the third quarter and represented 44% of off-premises visits.

Restaurant visits, both physical and virtual, declined by  -10% in the quarter compared to same quarter year ago, based on NPD’s CREST foodservice research, which tracks daily how U.S. consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.

“While some of the steep transaction and traffic declines experienced at the height of the mandated shelter-at-home and dine-in closures have been recovered, many uncertainties lie ahead for the industry,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America “The continuing pandemic, governmental restrictions, and relief funding are just a few of the uncertainties. But, what we do know for certain is that consumers continue to rely on restaurants and other foodservice outlets to prepare their meals, and there is pent-up demand while we wait for a return to normalcy.”