- The novel coronavirus pandemic has driven a number of changes in fast food consumption, including a spike in mobile app usage from 51% in April to 64% in July, according to a report from Bluedot and SeeLevel HX based on a July survey of 1,501 U.S. consumers.
- The report emailed to Restaurant Dive also shows that customers increased their drive-thru usage by 43% since April. Nearly three out of four consumers visit the drive-thru as often or more often than before.
- Curbside pickup usage is also up substantially, with 62% of consumers picking this channel the same amount as before or more often while 40% said they used it more often than usual, compared to 27% in April.
An increase in drive-thru usage may not come as a surprise. When the pandemic began proliferating across the country in March and April, the drive-thru was one of the few options available to access restaurant food, and helped better insulate the fast food segment from COVID-19's economic impact than other segments.
Drive-thru success is also the reason a few major brands have shifted their real estate strategies to focus on future builds featuring the channel. Shake Shack, for example, plans to add its first drive-thru format in 2021, while Chipotle is "pivoting its entire portfolio" to Chipotlanes. Even convenience store chain Wawa is focused on the drive-thru model in response to this increased demand.
Still, this added volume at the drive-thru can add to wait times, and the Bluedot report shows that a majority (81%) of consumers believe that waiting more than 10 minutes at the drive-thru is too long. Some chains have tried to alleviate this pressure by adding curbside pickup service. Dunkin's curbside orders represented 2.4% of sales by the end of Q2.
But consumers have their limits with this channel's timing as well. The report shows four out of 10 customers felt that waiting over four mintues for curbside at fast food was too long.
Plenty of chains have worked to clock in under those wait times by adding order-ahead options, which seems to fit changing customer behaviors. According to the report, 88% of respondents said they are using apps to order food, groceries and other products the same or more often than before, compared to 85% in the April report. Further, some brands — Taco Bell, McDonald's and Subway among them — have trimmed their menus to simplify operations to improve speed of service during the pandemic.
These moves have also boosted customer satisfaction scores. During its most recent earnings call, Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor said overall satisfaction scores, including speed, are up. Yum Brands CFO Chris Turner told investors during an earnings call that customer satisfaction scores are also up across its brands, including Taco Bell. If operators can keep this level of speed and keep customers happy, these off-premise channels could be viable in the long term.
Penegor said Wendy's "continue[s] to work on initiatives such as mobile grab-and-go and curbside pickup as we know that a frictionless experience is what customers will demand as we move forward in a post-COVID world."