4 trends that show how diners are ordering now

People are returning to dining rooms, digital orders are cooling and more recent developments.

More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the big-picture impacts on restaurants have become a familiar refrain: less dining in, more off-premise, and a big shift toward digital channels. 

One big question, however, has been what would happen to those dynamics when people started returning to dining rooms—which has been happening for at least a couple of months. Here are four trends that offer a snapshot of how diners are ordering now. 

Off-premise is still the preferred method.

As restrictions continue to ease on dine-in service in most parts of the country, more consumers are returning to dining rooms. As of late August, 41% of consumers had dined indoors since it became available, according to Technomic’s Economic Impact Navigator. In late May, only 16% had done so.

However, dining in still trailed off-premise service formats, the researcher found. Drive-thru led the way, with 68% consumers having used it, followed by takeout (63%), curbside pickup (48%), third-party delivery and direct delivery (both 45%). 

Digital orders are slowing a bit.

One result of more dining in has been a slight decrease in orders coming via digital channels. In April, digital orders accounted for 20% of restaurant visits, according to market research company NPD. In August, that had dropped to 17%.

While that still represents a significant chunk of orders, the moderation that some predicted seems to be taking hold. 

Delivery orders are nearly split between first- and third-party.

The battle between restaurants and third parties for share of delivery orders is neck-and-neck. In July, 43% of consumers ordered delivery directly from a restaurant, while 37% ordered from a third-party delivery company, according to research by business news site The Manifest.

Most consumers say their preference is to order directly from a restaurant. In July, 41% of consumers said they preferred to order direct, either online or over the phone, according to consulting firm AlixPartners. Sixteen percent said third-party delivery was preferred.

That’s a good sign for restaurants, which avoid hefty third-party fees when orders come through their own channels. But the numbers show there is still more they can be doing to drive those direct orders.

Gen Z leads the online ordering charge.

Gen Z consumers are the most likely to order online for pickup or delivery, according to Technomic’s Consumer Visit Tracker.

Nine percent of these younger diners ordered via app or website for pickup, compared to 8% of consumers who did so overall. And 7% ordered online for delivery, compared to 6% of consumers overall.

For comparison, baby boomer/mature consumers ordered online for pickup 4% of the time, and for delivery just 1%. 

Gen Zers also overindexed on kiosk or tablet ordering inside restaurants, with 8% ordering that way compared to 6% of consumers overall. 

This isn’t all that surprising given that the younger generation is more used to this kind of technology, but is worth noting for restaurants looking to attract Gen Z consumers.

Overall, ordering via drive-thru (35%) and inside from an employee (32%) were the two most popular methods across generations, Technomic found. 

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