As dining rooms closed down during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants with drive-thrus saw more visitors pull up to their windows.
Trips to the drive-thru represented 42% of all restaurant visits in the second quarter, according to business data and analytics company NPD. The share was up 26% for the quarter.
“Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed, and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” said NPD food industry advisor David Portalatin.
Even as more restaurants began reopening their dining rooms, with limited capacity, drive-thrus stayed popular. Visits increased by 13% in July, according to NPD. That was the highest visit increase of all the categories NPD tracked, which included dine-in, carry-out and delivery.
Although visits to drive-thrus increased, overall restaurant visits in all categories sunk to a historical low.
Fast-food restaurants, which have the majority of drive-thrus, fared better than other types of restaurants, according to NPD. Their visits dipped 17%.
Fast-casual restaurants have seen their popularity rise sharply in the last several years, but many individual locations do not have drive-thru windows. Visits were down 26% there.
Traditional dining spaces, which rarely have drive-through windows, had the biggest bite taken out of their visits. Traffic in this category declined 48% in April, May and June, according to NPD.
Such tremendous declines will lead to lasting changes in the restaurant industry, according to NPD.
“Fast casual and traditional quick service chains have already announced expansion plans for their drive-thru operations, and we will hear more chains doing the same,” Portalatin said. “Drive-thru and other off-premises operations will be a major part of the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery and future.”
Also growing in interest mid-pandemic are food halls, which found themselves more resilient to the coronavirus outbreak.
As far as how restaurant businesses are doing, their sales slipped as consumer visits dropped.