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Food Service Industry Updates

Customer Transaction Declines Hold Steady in October at Restaurant Chains

Drive-thru visits grew by 27% in the third quarter, according to The NPD Group.

Customer transaction declines at major U.S. restaurant chains held steady at minus 9% for every week in October compared to the same weeks a year ago, according to The NPD Group’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. 

Market researcher NPD said that quick-service restaurant chains, which have been able to leverage their off-premises operations during the pandemic, also stabilized transaction declines at minus 9% throughout the month. Full-service restaurant chains, which are more heavily reliant on dine-in services, saw transaction declines fluctuate from minus 16% in the first week of October to minus 14% in the last full week of the month,

According to NPD, 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 the same quarters a year ago. Off-premises orders from carry out, delivery and drive-thru increased by 22% in the quarter compared to a 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.

“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,” said 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.”