The demise of the restaurant dining room continues

ConsumerAffairs

Industry watchers say this trend is here to stay

How well do restaurant chains meet consumer demand in terms of delivery, drive-through, and carryout? Fairly well, says a new study -- particularly the smaller, more nimble chains.

The 2023 Off-Premises Report suggests that – once again – the pandemic was the driver behind this shift. COVID-19 forced smaller chains to think about what end-runs they could make against the big brands.

These smaller chains found that if they could maximize their efficiency when their customers order carryout, go through the drive-thru, or have their order delivered they might be able to gain both additional market share and consumer love.

Dutch treat, ham, and glazed donuts

The race in the “Quick Service” customer satisfaction index was pretty tight, but with an off-premises score of 64.4, finishing first was Dutch Bros Coffee. The company began with a double-head espresso machine and a pushcart in Grants Pass, Ore., and has now spread to 754 locations across 14 states.

Consumers claim that Dutch Bros is so popular because they make the most of not being Starbucks and are “just regular” folks like you and me.

Finishing second, third, and fourth in the “Quick Service” off-premises rankings were The Honey Baked Ham Co., Krispy Kreme, then In-and-Out Burger.

Fast casual and full service winners

In the “fast casual” category for off-premise restaurant chains, Jersey Mike’s finished at the top and also had the highest overall score. Then, Raising Cane’s, Jimmy John’s, and Qdoba.

When it comes to “full service” chains, Chuy’s took home first place, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Miller’s Ale House, and Olive Garden.

Innovation should bring consumers even more satisfaction 

With the food ordering consumer putting more emphasis on speed and satisfaction, restaurant chains are paying more attention to efficiency. Some chains are already doing that by building out more drive-thru lanes and investing in electric vehicles that can do more cost-efficient short-haul deliveries. 

Over the next year or so, we’re likely to see more and more off-premises-focused models that are completely devoid of a dining room. White Castle and Jimmy John’s have already opened up their versions, as have Wingstop, Jack in the Box, KFC, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Whataburger, Del Taco, and McDonald’s.

“The steep and continuing rise in delivery isn’t news in late 2023. What is worth exploring now is how brands are evolving and innovating to protect and enhance this now-critical revenue stream,” said NRN’s Alicia Kelso. 

“Those efforts include finding the sweet spot for promotional activity, investing in the right packaging and equipment, translating in-restaurant experiences, deploying the right technology, and redesigning restaurants to ensure off-premises efficiencies. To put a finer point on it, the off-premises consumer is now top of mind and that shift has impacted restaurant innovations — and it will continue to do so.”

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