Even with COVID cases surging throughout the U.S. and some states reducing restaurant capacity, customer transaction declines at major restaurant chains improved from October to  negative 8 percent compared to a year ago, a 1-point gain from October’s negative 9 percent decline, reports The NPD Group.  

This improvement was aided by major quick service restaurants chains’ proficiency in offering off-premises services, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery. Transaction declines at quick service restaurant chains, which represent the bulk of industry transactions, were down 7 percent in November versus year ago, according to NPD’s CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 75 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53 percent of the commercial restaurant traffic in U.S.

“Major quick service restaurant chains have learned to expand their already high capacity for off-premises volumes,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “We should continue to expect drive-thru and delivery to be performance drivers for the best performing restaurant operators as consumers continue to shift meal occasions to the home.”

While dine-in restaurant traffic for the total industry, chains and independents, declined by 53 percent in October compared to year ago, off-premises visits increased by 21 percent. Total restaurant carry-out, which holds the largest traffic share of off-premises services at 46 percent, increased by 6 percent; drive-thru, which represents 43 percent share of traffic, grew by 24 percent; and delivery, which represents 11 percent share, realized a gain of 125 percent in October over year ago, according to NPD’s foodservice market research, which daily tracks how U.S. consumers use restaurants and foodservice outlets.

Off-premises gains, however, come at the expense of full-service restaurants, which are mostly dine-in operations. Although full service restaurant chains have pivoted to offer more off-premises services, like carry-out and delivery, customer transaction declines remain in the double-digits. In November, full service transactions were down 23 percent, declines deepened in the latter half of the month as the rise of COVID cases resulted in restaurant capacity and dine-in restrictions across the country.

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