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DATA INSIGHT: Rocketing drive-thru sales fuel kitchen activity for leading chains

Costa drive-thru

The trend for ordering food and drinks from cars at Britain’s growing number of drive-thru restaurants soared from September to November 2020, according to global information company The NPD Group.

There were 121 million visits to Britain’s 2,000 quick service restaurants (QSR) that offer drive-thru in those three months in 2020, a 14% increase on the same period the year before.

Spend was up 45% to £723m over this time frame, with consumers tending to place larger-than-average orders at the drive-thru window.

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According to footfall analysis from NPD’s SnapMyEats data, the growth in drive-thru in these three months was a result of consumers switching from eating in and takeaway options during lockdowns and tiering, rather than drive-thru generating completely new visits.

17 million visits were switched to drive-thru from eat-in, and 12 million drive-thru visits took the place of takeaway or collection.

Drive-thru is not new to Britain. Chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Greggs have all been busy opening drive-thrus in out-of-town locations and motorway service stations over the past few years.

Coffee chains including Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Tim Hortons are also busy getting in on the act to expand their reach beyond the high street where footfall is in decline, while the likes of Subway, Taco Bell and Krispy Kreme have introduced drive-thru options as well.

In the three-month period between September and November 2020, drive-thru accounted for 11% of all eating out visits at QSR and 12% of spend, both up sharply versus a year ago.

During the month of November, drive-thru visits reached 37 million, up 27% versus November 2019, and drive-thru spend rose 73% to £213m.

Dinner and treating occasions were the main beneficiaries, with dinner 20% more important compared to pre-Covid-19 levels and treating occasions up 47%, as consumers looked to relieve the boredom of lockdown.

Much of the growth in drive-thru is linked to the coronavirus pandemic as people spend more time in their cars than on public transport, and for some people there’s often an added sense of Covid-19 security when ordering from a car.

Dominic Allport, insights director (foodservice) at The NPD Group, said: “The format is not new to some of the major foodservice operators like McDonald’s, which has long used drive-thru as a complement to their high street and delivery offerings. However, for the coffee chains, drive-thru offers a distinct area of growth to help compensate for reduced footfall on high streets up and down the country.”

Cops called to control traffic as customers clamour for Costa

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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