Consumer Trends

Takeout ruled in 2020, and it's likely to continue

New research shows how consumer behavior changed amid the pandemic and the extent to which it will stick.
takeout trends
Photograph: Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic has changed just about everything Americans do, including dining out.

Nationwide dining room closures and warnings to stay home pushed much restaurant business off-premise in 2020. Consumers increasingly began using digital channels to order, and things like online ordering and curbside pickup became expectations rather than amenities. 

As the pandemic approaches the one-year mark, new research shows how those dining shifts played out and where they might be going next. 

Takeout reigned in 2020.

No surprise here: Consumers spent $769 billion ordering food last year, and 63% of that was for food eaten at home, according to a new report from payment publication PYMNTS and restaurant tech provider Paytronix. 

A vast majority of those takeout orders (89%) were placed online, either from a restaurant’s website, mobile app or third-party marketplace. Consumers were cooped up at home, and online ordering made it a lot easier to get food.

Notably, 61% of those online orders were from restaurants that offered only sit-down dining prior to the pandemic. That means a significant portion of restaurants came online in the past year to offer delivery, pickup or other services for the first time.

Takeout usage is increasing, and evolving.

As the pandemic’s grip tightened in April 2020, diners quickly took to drive-thrus, curbside pickup and in-store pickup to order food. That month, more than 50% of consumers increased or maintained their use of drive-thrus and in-store pickup; just under half said the same of curbside, according to a new report from Bluedot, a provider of mobile app geolocation technology.

Fast-forward to this month, and all three channels are pushing 70% usage, the researcher found. Curbside pickup has come the furthest, and usage of both curbside and in-store are now nearly equal with the drive-thru. Overall, consumers are simply using all three channels more.

That behavior comes even as dine-in restrictions loosen nationwide and vaccination efforts inch forward, suggesting that diners’ pandemic-era behavior could stick.

Guests prefer to order directly from restaurants.

Another element of consumers’ changing habits has been the rapid uptake of third-party delivery services. That said, consumers appear to prefer ordering from a restaurant’s own app rather than a third party. 

Half of consumers surveyed use restaurant apps once or twice a month, Bluedot found, compared to just 32% who use third-party apps that often. Meanwhile, 36% said they never use third-party apps.

“Restaurants are winning the battle with third-party delivery apps,” the report said.

Many say their new habits are permanent.

It has been one of the biggest questions of the year: Will diners’ pandemic-era behavior translate once the virus subsides?

Many of them say it will. One in three people surveyed by Bluedot said they plan to fully adopt their new behavior and never return to their pre-pandemic dining habits, while 22% said they would return to their former ways.

“It’s a new era of consumer habits,” the report said.

And they will spend more with those services.

Not only will consumers continue to expect services like online ordering, curbside pickup and in-app ordering, but they’ll spend more through those channels, too. 

As of mid-November, 45% of consumers surveyed by PYMNTS/Paytronix said the ability to order online would encourage them to spend more on food, up from 37% in October. Nearly 35% said so of mobile app ordering, and 31% for curbside pickup.

“More consumers than ever say they would be encouraged to spend more if their favorite restaurants offered time-saving services,” the report said. “It is therefore clear that saving time is at the top of restaurant customers’ minds when they are choosing where to order and dine.”

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