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Dining Off-Premises, Boosted During Pandemic, Looks Like It’s Here to Stay

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Dining Off-Premises, Boosted During Pandemic, Looks Like It’s Here to Stay

Consumers are increasing their off-premises dinner purchases, according to the latest weekly survey from the National Restaurant Association. In the early spring 2021 period, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have increased their weekly off-premises dinner purchases by 8% and 7%, respectively.

Here’s a closer look at the recent restaurant survey stats, and what they might mean for the industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic:

OFF-PREMISES DINING TOOK SHARE FROM SIT-DOWN EATING DURING PANDEMIC

Pre-pandemic, an average of 59% of adults each week went out for dinner at a sit-down restaurant or fast-food establishment, reported MarketScreener (March 19). Gen Z adults (72%) and Millennials (65%) were the most likely to go out for dinner in the weeks leading up to the pandemic. However, on-premises dinner patronage fell sharply during the lockdown period, with average weekly usage plunging by more than 40 percentage points.

Prior to the pandemic, around 58% of adults purchased takeout or delivery for dinner, with Millennials and Gen Z being most likely to do so. During lockdown, an increasing proportion of consumers started using takeout and delivery for dinner. Overall, the largest gains in weekly off-premises dinner usage were seen among Gen X and Baby Boomers.

As for the lunch daypart, the survey displayed similar results, in which consumer activity remained below pre-pandemic levels for on-premises and showed growth for off-premises. On-premises breakfast remains below-pre-pandemic, while consumer usage is similar to pre-pandemic for off-premises for that daypart.

Meanwhile, Jack in The Box reported its best quarter in nearly 30 years in February, which can largely be attributed to off-premises dining and digital sales that doubled in the first quarter on a year-over-year basis to account for nearly 7% of all sales, the chain’s CEO said, according to Yahoo Finance (March 22).

INDOOR DINING RESTRICTIONS EASE, SIT-DOWN EATING TRENDING UP

As the weather improved mid-2020, more people started going out for dinner with an average of 35% of adults each week going out for dinner during the summer/fall period. After a slight dip during the winter restrictions period, on-premises dinner activity trended higher as spring approached.

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In addition to the weather, indoor dining restrictions have eased in several states. Diner growth has shown improvement in recent weeks, according to data from OpenTable. OpenTable restaurant diner growth year-over-year data in the U.S. was -29.66% as of Mar 17, 2021. For comparison, it was at -54.81 on Feb. 17, 2021.

FOODSERVICE MAY NEED A HYBRID MODEL GOING FORWARD

Though on-premises dining is coming back into favor, off-premises is still growing, which means that restaurants will likely need to adopt a hybrid model moving forward.

Restaurant industry experts believe that drive-thru ordering will stay above pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future. One market analyst says consumers have changed their ordering habits for good over the past year and now demand convenience and safety, reported CNBC (March 12).

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The Food Institute