Are Off-Premise Dining Options Here to Stay?

Mar 15, 2021

In an article in QSR magazine, Takeout and Delivery Is Now Essential to Customers; we see the shift to off-premise dining was initially geared toward survival in the early days of the pandemic. However, since then, “roughly half of full-service operators said they devoted more resources to expanding off-premises business since the onset of COVID.”  As a result, in many cases, off-premise dining represents a “larger proportion of sales than it did pre-pandemic.”  The National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry Report examined some of the most significant off-premises shifts and shared how these “operational trends will influence consumers’ restaurant decisions in the coming months.”  Nearly 68% of all adult consumers say they’re more likely to purchase takeout food from a restaurant than they were pre-COVID.



“Curbside was broadly the single-most adopted off-premises jump…” and was the least capital-intensive option for many operators. As a result, 8 out of 10 fine dining, family dining, and fast-casual operators have added this option. It offers a key benefit to diners and restaurants; unlike third-party delivery, it provides convenience at no extra cost per order. Take a look at the restaurants of the future designs coming from some of the industry’s top chains, Fast-Food Restaurants of the Future.  In addition to curbside parking spots, they offer integrated smart technology that alerts employees of a customer’s impending arrival.


curbside pickup
Curbside pickup sign



Nearly half of full-service and slightly fewer fast-casual operators introduced delivery in 2020. Operators were more likely to add third-party delivery rather than set up their own in-house option; however, some did both.  Third-party was the easiest and “quickest path to expand reach to an already dedicated customer base.”  It has been reported that nearly two-thirds of delivery customers prefer to order directly from a restaurant, so there is an opportunity for brands to capitalize on this and reduce some of the commissions tied to third-party delivery.



Drive-thru restaurants have always been viewed as the ultimate in convenience and speed.  However, during the pandemic, they were a lifeline for restaurants that had them. During mandated dine-in closures in April, May, and June 2020, drive-thru visits increased by 26% and represented 42% of all restaurant visits.  As more restaurants reopened in July, drive-thru visits still increased by 13%.  But what about those without a drive-thru option? Obviously, “adding a drive-thru takes space, capital, and likely landlord sign-off.” However, real estate developers are opening up to the idea as they begin to understand consumer demand. “Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed, and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” reports David Portalatin, a food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.


An article in Restaurant Business Online highlighted how fast-food chains are embracing AI and other technologies and are working to make their drive-thrus smarter.


Check out our current client, Hi Auto, and their Drive-Thru of the Future, using conversational AI built to function in a noisy environment. Hi Auto works with drive-thru brands using voice automation to streamline their ordering, improve customer satisfaction, increase revenue and lower their labor costs. Additionally, Hi Auto record calls for 60-90 days while their AI learns the menu. In these 60-90 days, the operators receive essentially a “complimentary data-driven drive-thru operations assessment” that will tell them how often (or how not often) the team is upselling, wait times, lag times, customer service experience, wrong orders, etc. Operators can use this information to better train and develop their team, operations, and overall customer satisfaction.

As the demand for these off-premises options has exploded, there is also a heightened need for new and different types of containers to transport menu items. Ensuring that your food can travel well should be a top priority for restaurants investing in off-premise dining options. This means that operators must rethink packaging and find innovative ways to ensure that food arrives at the right temperature.  For example, operators are looking to preserve the integrity of hot foods and finding vented containers that keep crispy food crispy in transit.  Additionally, with the surge in takeout and delivery, restaurant “operators have to make sure customers feel secure that their food is safe.” California passed legislation mandating that operators that use third-party delivery have to “secure containers to indicate they haven’t been opened or violated.” Novolex developed a new bag for delivery that includes “tamper-evident seals to communicate sanitation and safety.”


Early in the pandemic, some states temporarily loosened rules that prohibited restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks for off-site consumption. A new bill introduced in California would permanently allow restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages for takeout, as long as the drink is sold with a meal order. The ability to offer alcoholic beverages with off-premise orders can provide a much-needed lifeline for many restaurants to increase their off-premises revenue stream.


According to Upserve, it’s not just younger people flocking to off-premise dining options; consumers of all ages are coming to expect these services.  The National Restaurant Association reports that “more than 60% of the restaurant foods are consumed off-premise.  By 2025, off-premise is likely to account for approximately 80% of the industry’s growth”   So, off-premise operations are here to stay and will likely be a significant part of the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery and future.