Status Check: Drive-Thru Continues to Pace Quick-Service Recovery

    The sector continues to outperform the rest of the industry.

    Finance | October 20, 2021 | Danny Klein
    Chick-fil-A employee handing food out the window of a drive-thru.
    Chick-fil-A
    Chick-fil-A was named QSR magazine's Drive-Thru of the Year for 2021.

    Whether COVID-19 accelerated or invented innovation, elevated or reset expectations, there’s one fact with little nuance to split hairs on: The pandemic forced consumers to visit restaurants with drive-thrus more often.

    It’s perhaps the banner reason quick service weathered the crisis out of the gates, and why it’s continued to outpace the field.

    Black Box Intelligence on Wednesday released its State of The Industry Report, which provided some context behind the anecdotal realities operators have spoken to in recent months.

    For starters, same-store sales in quick service, year-to-date (through October 18) are up 10.15 percent. The rest of the field: 2.84 percent. Despite those figures, traffic remains challenged at negative 6.7 percent, although that’s ahead of the overall industry’s mark of negative 8.34 percent

    READ MORE:

    The Future of Fast-Food Drive-Thru Arrives Early

    When COVID-19 is Gone, What Will Become of Restaurant Delivery?

    How quick-serves are covering this traffic gap isn’t a mystery. In addition to higher prices (up nearly 7 percent in August, year-over-year), the nature of transactions have shifted, and in favor of those brands built to deliver omnichannel business. Quick-service drive-thru sales, year-to-date, are up 46.96 percent. The channel has hasn’t lost steam from lockdown depths. The same is true of delivery, which hiked 84.53 percent. In drive-thru's case, the figures are also likely a reflection of the fact many dining rooms across the country remain closed, either for safety concerns or due to staffing issues.

    Dine-in sales, meanwhile, are down 32.15 percent and to-go sales slipped a bit as well, 9.67 percent lower.

    In addition, Black Box’s Workforce Intelligence platform showed the number of employees per unit continues to drop as operators navigate the labor shortage. It’s sitting at 23 after coming in at 24 in 2019 and 26 in 2018. Sales per labor hour are 56.

    Turnover at the management level, amid pandemic conditions, is 70.6 percent. In non-management, 169.9 percent.

    The average for the category chimed in at 100.6 percent, well higher than fast casual’s 86.5 percent.

    Black Box data also noted GMs are making base salaries of $51,089 and assistant GMs $36,606. These numbers are likely to climb, with brands like Portillo’s forking up six-figure salaries.

    A shade over 20 percent of the quick-service workforce is under 18, while 18–24 made up the largest swath at about 33 percent.

    Here’s a breakdown of some key financial trends:

    Comp sales

    • Q2 2021: 12.82 percent
    • Q3 2021: 10.21 percent
    • Q3 2019: 0.34 percent

     

    Comp traffic

    • Q2 2021: –4.7 percent
    • Q3 2021: –6.14 percent
    • Q3 2019: –2.27 percent

     

    PPA/PTA growth

    • Q2 2021: 17.8 percent
    • Q3 2021: 18.2 percent
    • Q3 2019: 2.74 percent

     

    Food

    • Q2 2021: 16.22 percent
    • Q3 2021: 12.65 percent
    • Q3 2019: –0.52 percent

     

    Beverage

    • Q2 2021: –0.01 percent
    • Q3 2021: 1.43 percent
    • Q3 2019: –6.42 percent

     

    Dine-in

    • Q2 2021: –30.75 percent
    • Q3 2021: –14.76 percent
    • Q3 2019: –3.36 percent

     

    To-go

    • Q2 2021: –7.13 percent
    • Q3 2021: –3.22 percent
    • Q3 2019: –1.53 percent

     

    Delivery

    • Q2 2021: 43.14 percent
    • Q3 2021: 65.37 percent
    • Q3 2019: N/A

     

    Drive-Thru

    • Q2 2021: 50.05 percent
    • Q3 2021: 36.85 percent
    • Q3 2019: 1.47 percent

     

    Also with its Workforce Intelligence platform, Black Box looked at some top guest mentions.

    Food:

    • Always
    • Service
    • Time
    • Fast
    • Like
    • Location
    • Line
    • Staff
    • Place


    Service:

    • Food
    • Order
    • Drive
    • Good
    • Staff
    • Customer
    • Like
    • Chicken
    • Friendly
    • Never

     

    Intent on Return

    • Always
    • Time
    • Location
    • Chicken
    • Back
    • Customer
    • Smoothie
    • Place
    • Friendly
    • Every