Trends in off-premise dining + why restaurants should (still) prioritize digital efforts

Katie Cofer | Jun 10, 2020 Katie Cofer 06/10/20

Since the onset of the pandemic, off-premise dining has been a lifeline for restaurants and consumers craving food from their favorite establishments. As dining rooms shut down, more customers hit up drive-thrus or turned to digital channels to place pick-up and delivery orders. In fact, our latest research shows half of consumers say they’ve ordered food online more frequently since COVID-19.

Now, as dining room doors begin to reopen, brands are again tasked with readjusting operations—adhering to strict policies in social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and more. But before restaurants completely shift focus, it’s important to remember that off-premise dining will continue to be the preferred option for most customers.

Though going out to dinner was the number one activity most consumers were likely to engage in once the pandemic curve has flattened, only 42% are ready to make the jump within the first 30 days. That means more than half of customers will still be opting for drive-thru, pick-up, or delivery to get food from restaurants—even with the option of dining in.

So as more and more customers increase their digital engagement, brands must lean into this digital maturity and provide customers with a seamless online ordering experience. To help you do that, we launched a third wave of our proprietary research and got feedback from 8,500 consumers on their off-premise dining experiences. Let’s take a look at some of the top trends we found.


Consumers are prioritizing a contactless experience

Today’s consumers have a heightened awareness and concern for their health and safety and by this point, they will only remain loyal to brands that have the same priorities. With 3 out of 4 customers prioritizing a contactless experience, it’s important brands implement the right operational procedures to adhere to those expectations.


During a recent restaurant industry roundtable, we addressed some of the biggest pain points brands are currently facing with off-premise dining and providing a contactless experience. One big challenge is being able to win over the customer in this very isolated and brief exchange. The dine-in experience holds many opportunities to impress, but when your entire interaction is running food out to a car or handing over a carryout bag, there is little room for error. And with 84% of consumers agreeing how food is packaged—secured, free of stains, + properly labeled—is important, the stakes are even higher.


Most customers are turning to branded apps/websites for online orders

We know more customers are ordering food online, but what’s their preferred method? Currently, 70% of consumers are using digital channels to order food, with 58% turning to the brand's website or app.


Another interesting point here is, though third-party delivery usage continues to grow, only 12% of customers’ off-premise orders are coming through a third-party delivery provider. This is likely for 2 reasons:


  1. With heightened health concerns, customers feel safer interacting directly with the brand—as opposed to adding another point of contact.
  2. Economic and financial impact means customers are more conscious of price. Ninety percent will only pay $5 or less on delivery fees, with only 35% agreeing delivery is worth the cost.


But before you throw your efforts into an in-house delivery strategy, consider this: 80% of customers want to pick up their own food (using either curbside or drive-thru) vs. having their food delivered.


Your attention would be better served evaluating your branded app + website, ensuring it’s user-friendly, and providing a seamless ordering experience. Or, if your brand does not have these capabilities, it may be time to make the investment.


Customers expect a seamless digital experience

When launching a branded app, there are many things to consider. Many new apps don’t take off or succeed because they lack table-stakes features like ordering ahead, loyalty programs, and personalized discounts. To get a better idea how to optimize your digital offering, let’s look at 3 ways Chick-fil-A got it right with their branded app:


  1. Provide convenience: Users can order ahead + bypass lines by tapping the “I’m here” button, with a multitude of mobile-wallet pay options
  2. Reward: Customers receive usage-based incentives for popular add-on items
  3. Personalize: Orders can be customized + saved for future visits, while users can automatically locate the closet restaurant based on location


It's also important to know when companies invest in a branded app, they own the customer experience data that is collected (as opposed to using a third-party delivery vendor, who will then have rights to any customer feedback). A native branded app allows you to continuously measure the customer experience and grow guest loyalty. But if at the end of the day, a branded app isn't an option for you—and using a third-party delivery provider is—do some research on how an exclusive partnership may benefit your brand.


Prioritize digital + win customers

Restaurant dining rooms are beginning to reopen, but that doesn’t negate the importance of digital offerings. With most customers not quite ready to re-engage in social activities—and many not knowing when they will be ready—brands must be able to provide them with safe, convenient ways to get their food.

For more on how to provide a digital experience that streamlines operations and improves business outcomes, download the best practice guide: Navigate the digital transformation without compromising on CX.


Katie Cofer | VP, Customer Engagement—Restaurant 
Customer Experience Update