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RESEARCH | Staff Reporter, UK
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More drive-thru investment seen

Insights agency The NPD Group expects operators to invest in the channel.

Brits ordering food and drinks from their cars soared from September to November 2020, according to global information company The NPD Group.

In those three months, there were 121 million visits to Britain’s 2,000 quick service restaurants (QSR) that offer drive-thru, a 14% increase on the same period last year.

Spend was up 45% to £723 million over this time frame, with consumers tending to place larger-than-average orders at the drive-thru window.

According to footfall analysis from NPD’s SnapMyEats data, the growth in drive-thru in these three months was attributed to consumers switching from eating in and takeaway options during lockdowns and tiering, rather than drive-thru generating completely new visits.

17 million visits were switched to drive-thru from eat-in, whilst 12 million drive-thru visits took the place of takeaway or collection.

In the three-month period between September and November 2020, drive-thru also accounted for 11% of all eating out visits at QSR and 12% of spend, both up compared to a year ago.

During the month of November, drive-thru visits reached 37 million, up by 27% versus November 2019, and drive-thru spend rose 73% to £213 million. Dinner and treating occasions were the main beneficiaries, with dinner 20% more important compared to pre-COVID-19 levels and treating occasions up 47%.

NPD argued that much of the growth in drive-thru is linked to the coronavirus pandemic as people spend more time in their cars than on public transport and an “added sense of COVID-19 security” when ordering from a car.

Delivery spend versus drive-thru spend
QSR delivery remains a bigger business in Britain, with £1.6 billion spent by consumers during the three months to November 2020, 27% of total QSR spend. This is more than twice the amount spent on QSR drive-thrus over the same period (12% of total QSR spend).

However, the insights agency also expects that QSR chains will continue to open drive-thrus, as sites are generally cheaper than on the high street and planning permission is often easier to obtain. In addition, they say it is likely that drive-thrus allow restaurant chains to keep more revenue and profits compared to delivery, where commission “is often paid to a third party.”

The NPD Group also expects to see more drive-thrus offer an increasingly varied range of cuisines, including Pan Asian, and Indian food.

“Ordering in advance via an app, and a contactless experience at the window, offers additional reassurance to drivers and their passengers, and as a result, many have shown their preference for the drive-thru,” Dominic Allport, Insights Director (Foodservice), The NPD Group, explained.

“The format is not new to some of the major foodservice operators like McDonalds, who have long used drive-thru as a complement to their high street and delivery offerings. However, for the coffee chains, drive-thru offers a distinct area of growth to help compensate for reduced footfall on high streets up and down the country.”

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