Only 23 percent of respondents said they’d return to pre-COVID dining habits altogether. One in three plan on fully adopting newly formed habits and never returning to pre-pandemic ways. Will there be some who don’t dine-in again? A hyper-opposite to the pent-up demand boiling of late? There’s a good chance there was a subset of consumers who never liked doing so in the first place. Maybe they were heavy drive-thru or counter-service users. Either way, the crowd-avoidant guest, as small as that category might or might not be, has never had more options. And even if that population diminishes over time, it’s safe to assume people will progress at different rates. Certain diners will lag others when the dine-in rush returns. Kind of like waiting for the holiday season’s hottest gift to lose buzz so you can check reviews, recalibrate, and pick it up after the dust clears.
Broadly, consumer fear and/or anxiety levels have fallen since the start of COVID.
Percentage of consumers feeling anxiety walking in-store:
- April: 80 percent
- August: 72 percent
- February 2021: 69 percent
In Bluedot’s study, curbside has actually now overtaken drive thru as the safest fast-food order option, as perceived by guests.
What is safest:
- August: Drive thru (38 percent)
- February: Curbside (36 percent)
Diving further, not only are more consumers visiting the drive thru, they’re visiting more often than ever.
There’s been a 26 percent increase over the last 10 months, Bluedot found. A whopping 91 percent of respondents said they’d visited a drive thru in the last 30 days.
In April, more than 50 percent said they had not planned on using drive thru (or using less frequently). Fast forward to February, and only 9 percent have not visited in the last month. Adoption and acceptance is through the roof. Some credit goes to mobile and the integration of apps and other digital transactions into the experience. That and chains simply getting more efficient and guest-centric. McDonald’s, for instance, welcomed 300 million more cars in 2020 than the prior year. Of course, much of this is also tied to which restaurants are open and which are not, and which are clearly open and which take some discovery on the customer’s part.
Driving by a packed Chick-fil-A inspires a herd effect not as easily replicated in a restaurant that’s closed for dine-in yet remains open for off-premises. People go where they’re comfortable. And sometimes that stems from knowing what you know, and not worrying about what you don’t.
Regardless, the ability to impress new customers, reward loyal ones, and reengage lapsed users is a true chance for drive-thru focused brands today.