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Off-premises dining will continue to help restaurants grow in 2023

Delivery driver hands a boxed food order to a customer
(Image credit: Mike Jones/Pexels)

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The takeout and delivery sales that helped many restaurants weather pandemic shutdowns will continue to play an important role in post-pandemic recovery, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 State of the Industry report.

The off-premises market “has and will continue to be important for growth in the industry,” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association, said during a recent webinar about the report findings.

Off-premises sales spiked in the early days of the pandemic and have remained elevated as consumers continue to seek convenient dining options for eating at home or on the go. Two-thirds (66%) of consumers say they are more likely to order takeout food from a restaurant than they were before the pandemic, and 55% say the same about delivery. More than half (55%) of all adults surveyed say purchasing takeout or delivery is essential to the way they live. This figure is even higher among younger demographics, with 64% of millennials and 60% of Generation Z adults saying the same.

The growth of off-premises sales has touched every segment of the industry, from quickservice to fine dining. “Looking at overall restaurant traffic, currently, about three-quarters of all restaurant traffic is off-premises,” Riehle said.

Six in 10 quickservice restaurant operators reported off-premises sales in 2022 that were higher than 2019 levels, and 51% and 40% of fast-casual and fine dining operators said the same, respectively. Overall, almost 60% of operators expect off-premises sales in 2023 to be about the same as last year.

For delivery, many diners want to order direct

Delivery sales are rising along with the overall growth of off-premises dining, and most operators say delivery sales represent a bigger proportion of their sales volume than in 2019. The majority of restaurants use a third-party delivery service for all of their delivery orders, while a smaller percentage combine their own service with a third-party provider and an even smaller percentage handle all their deliveries in-house.

From the consumer perspective, most diners prefer to deal directly with the restaurant when placing a delivery order. Fifty-five percent of all delivery customers say they prefer to order delivery directly from the restaurant. This figure is highest among older age groups – 70% of baby boomers prefer to order directly from the restaurant, while Gen Z adults show a slight preference for third-party services, with 48% naming them as their preferred ordering method.

Consumers toast to off-premises alcoholic beverages

Many eateries found ways to include beverages – including alcohol – in the off-premises experience during the pandemic, thanks to loosened local restrictions around alcohol to-go.

“Certain metropolitan areas are continuing that offering of alcohol with the off-premises, some are still experimenting with it, and some have actually stopped it. But from the consumer perspective, the ability to have alcohol with that off-premises order is quite important,” Riehle said.

Six in 10 consumers surveyed said they would like the option to include wine by the glass with a takeout or delivery order, and 64% said they would like the option to include wine by the bottle. Wine clubs also present a growth opportunity for restaurants when it comes to off-premises. Sixty-four percent of diners say they’d join a restaurant wine club to purchase bottles of wine selected by a restaurant’s staff.

With continued avenues for expansion, off-premises dining is primed to drive growth in the restaurant industry this year.

“The economic environment does remain uncertain, particularly in the second half of this year. But overall the expectation is that the growth will remain positive,” Riehle said. “In terms of operational developments, that off-premises component remains front and center.”

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