Data from market research company, The NPD Group, has shown more consumers are buying meals to eat in the car, with a 24 per cent increase for chain-based operators and 19 per cent more for the foodservice industry.
With government restrictions, customer apprehensions to dining out and drive-thru fast-food chains multiplying nationwide, there was a 39 per cent increase in the number of people using drive-thrus during Q4 2020.
Savvy restauranteurs have taken note and are following suit, giving customers the ability to “dine in” without having to leave the safety and comfort of their cars. While an increase in drive-thru purchases from foodservice chains already set up for drive-thrus was to be expected, there was an astonishing 85 per cent increase in drive-thru traffic for independent venues.
This shows that independent venues have seen the opportunity to adapt their businesses and take advantage of the extra revenue stream.
“This is a good compromise for customers and restaurants alike in Australia,” The NPD Group senior vice president and deputy managing director Gimantha Jayasinghe said.
“What many of us have learned during the pandemic is that a lot of the food at more upscale restaurants doesn’t travel very well. In order for restaurants to better compete with fast food dining fare, many chefs have come to realise the benefits of pivoting to simpler menu items as opposed to their signature dishes.
“This is a win-win solution for both restaurants and consumers. Our car is a safe space; a protected, private place where we can just sit, uninterrupted and enjoy our meal.”
In the past, drive-thru purchases weren’t just for eating in the car; they were often associated with taking the meals away and eating them at home or at work. Whilst this is still a popular option, the appeal of being able to drive somewhere and choose the dining destination is also a factor.
Some segments experienced greater growth than others. Notably, in-car dining increased by 56 per cent in spend for those dining solo during a weekday lunchtime.
Data from The NPD Group shows that two of the main motivators for using the car to purchase food was to access food variety (92 per cent) and as a treat (27 per cent).
“This makes sense as travelling by car obviously widens the field for food options, but another motivation that came through strongly in the data was treating oneself,” Jaysinghe said.
“To me, that indicates people are using mealtimes to get out of the house if they are working from home and as a way of getting some quality ‘me time’ in a safe environment.”