Customer transaction declines at major U.S. restaurant chains held steady at negative 9 percent every week in October compared to same weeks year ago, reports The NPD Group. Quick service restaurant chains, which have been able to leverage their off-premises operations during the pandemic, also stabilized transaction declines at negative 9 percent throughout the month. Full service restaurant chains, which are more heavily reliant on dine-in services, saw transaction declines fluctuate from negative 16 percent in the first week of October to negative 14 percent in the last full week of the month, 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.
Helping to stabilize transaction declines in October was the strong growth in digital and off-premises restaurant orders heading into the month. With dine-in operations limited and consumers in search of contactless foodservice, digital restaurant orders from mobile apps, text messages, and the internet grew by 138 percent in the July, August, and September quarter compared to same quarter year ago.
Off-premises orders from carry-out, delivery, and drive-thru increased by 22 percent in the quarter compared to year ago while on-premises/dine-in declined by negative 62 percent. Delivery had the strongest visit growth in the quarter, up 106 percent, but held the smallest traffic share, 9 percent, of off-premises services. Carry-out held the largest traffic share at 46 percent with visits up 9 percent, and drive-thru visits grew by 27 percent in the third quarter and represented 44 percent of visits. Restaurant visits, both physical and virtual, declined by 10 percent in the quarter compared to same quarter year ago, based on NPD’s CREST foodservice research, which tracks daily how U.S. consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.
“While some of the steep transaction and traffic declines experienced at the height of the mandated shelter-at-home and dine-in closures have been recovered, many uncertainties lie ahead for the industry,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America “The continuing pandemic, governmental restrictions, and relief funding are just a few of the uncertainties. But, what we do know for certain is that consumers continue to rely on restaurants and other foodservice outlets to prepare their meals, and there is pent-up demand while we wait for a return to normalcy.”