Carry-Out Restaurant Orders Declining as Delivery & Drive-Thru Boom

Delivery orders saw triple-digit gains over a two-year period, The NPD Group reports.

CHICAGO — Consumers' preferences regarding restaurant takeout during the pandemic appear to be here to stay.

With consumers seeking the next level of convenience, restaurant carry-out has declined, reported The NPD Group. Instead, delivery and drive-thru orders took hold during the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued their popularity since, based on NPD's continual tracking of the U.S. restaurant industry.

From February 2020 through February 2022, digital and non-digital carry-out restaurant orders declined by 2 percent while delivery increased by 116 percent, and drive-thru grew by 20 percent. Digital ordering, which grew by 117 percent in the two years, contributed to the delivery and drive-thru growth.

Although digital carry-out orders doubled during the pandemic, these gains were offset by a double-digit decline in non-digital pickup orders that account for the bulk of pickup orders.

In the year ending February 2022, 76 percent of carry-out were non-digital orders, and these orders declined by 16 percent compared to the prior year. Non-digital drive-thru orders increased by 20 percent in the same period, and non-digital delivery, which represents 25 percent of delivery orders, increased by 25 percent. 

"Several factors have encouraged consumers to move away from ordering carry out. The convenience of drive-thrus, delivery and mobile ordering, in addition to dining room closures, have influenced consumers' willingness to get out of their car, walk into a restaurant, and order to go," said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. "Convenience rules and the more convenient options will win."

As Convenience Store News recently reported, NPD also recently reported on consumer eating behavior. The research firm concluded that consumers are more settled and accustomed to preparing more meals in their homes, with health and wellness becoming significant drivers of their eating choices.

Today, the focus is on customized diets, nutrient intake and functional foods, according to NPD's recent "America’s Health Pulse: Closing the Gap Between Wants and Needs" report.

Four macro needs drive all consumption: fueling, wellness, connecting and gratifying. Fueling is the top driver, influencing one-third of all eating occasions. The need for wellness grew throughout the pandemic and is second to fueling as a consumption driver. Wellness now directly impacts 21 percent of all eating occasions, which amounts to billions of occasions annually. With most meals sourced from home — a behavior established long before the pandemic — NPD expects wellness as a consumption driver to remain elevated into the foreseeable future.

Foods and ingredients that build immunity, like elderberry, jackfruit and bone broth, are popular with consumers. Additionally, the aging baby boomer population is looking to food as medicine in order to find remedies to either cure or manage health conditions, reported NPD.

Chicago-based The NPD Group offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help companies grow their businesses. It has offices in 30 cities across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

As CSNews reported, Information Resources Inc. (IRI), offering innovative solutions and services for consumer, retail and media companies, and NPD recently signed a definitive merger agreement. The combined company is designed to be a leading global technology, analytics and data provider that will offer clients a view of total retail purchasing and consumption trends, powered by advanced, predictive analytics on the IRI Liquid Data technology platform.