Curbside Creativity, Drive-Thru Delights Dominate Order-to-Eat

Curbside, Drive-thru Food Ordering

For those who operate restaurants or simply enjoy them, 2020 has been a nightmare. That’s why the always resourceful restaurant sector went all-in on mobile order-ahead (MOA) and kept the nation fed while industry players looked for their next move.

A “next-move” moment is fast approaching, and ideas are forming as to what we can expect and plan for. PYMNTS’ latest Order to Eat Tracker®, done in collaboration with Paytronix, outlines the situation, explaining that winter weather will soon end outdoor dining. What then?

“This means restaurants will soon have to pull out every stop again to draw customers,” according to PYMNTS’ new Order to Eat Tracker®. “Many will continue leveraging the third-party delivery apps that sustained them until their on-premises operations restarted, but these apps come with a host of issues. Some restaurants allege that the apps’ commission fees — which can be as high as 40 percent — are eating into their margins, but cash-strapped eateries may hesitate to abandon the apps for fear of losing the customers that use them.”

Controlling costs while leveraging logistics is the rising trend in restaurant operations, and platform solutions are already getting ahead of changes that will further affect how we eat.

Retrofitting for the Future

Of the many clever ideas popping up to cope with COVID, it is the prosaic drive-thru experience that has delivered many restaurants through the worst of it, with curbside pickup working in tandem as the “drive-up” modification for structures that can’t be retrofitted.

“Some restaurants are encouraging customers to conveniently pick up food by using first-party ordering options, which ultimately give restaurants a greater share of profits,” per the Tracker.

“Drive-thrus have proven to be exceptionally popular, with visits to them increasing by 26 percent in Q2 2020 and accounting for 42 percent of all restaurant trips during this period. Restaurants like Chipotle and Shake Shack are fast-tracking new, drive-thru-focused concept restaurants to meet this demand, eschewing dining rooms entirely in favor of to-go orders.”

A number of novel approaches show the creativity that pairs so well with food, as leading quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-casual brands test cool new concepts.

“Restaurants are also expanding their in-house ordering functionalities as dining rooms gradually reopen at partial capacity. Burger King recently unveiled plans for a new store concept that features touchless ordering as its centerpiece, for example, with the restaurant consisting of pickup windows, park-and-order lanes and drive-thrus. Customers receive their food via conveyor belts to limit contact with restaurant staff,” the Tracker states.

Meanwhile, third-party ordering services including Uber Eats recently introduced a contactless system for placing takeout or dine-in orders, “…with customers using their phone cameras to scan QR codes to access restaurant menus. This allows restaurants to shift away from physical menus, a potentially dangerous spread vector for COVID-19. The contactless pickup ordering feature is offered nationwide, but the dine-in solution is currently available only in select U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.”

Mobile Is Making It Work

Reinventing the restaurant experience is vital to the recovery, and it’s also an important step in the future of QSRs — all restaurants, really — as they seek post-pandemic equilibrium.

“Today, it seems that all the pieces of a restaurant have been taken apart and reassembled in new and exciting ways. It used to be that QSRs had very distinct attributes, including a kitchen, dining room, drive-thru and parking lot. But now the dining rooms are closed, and parking lots have become something else entirely,” Andrew Robbins, CEO at Paytronix, told PYMNTS.

Robbins added that “for many of our customers, curbside pickup has augmented or even replaced the traditional drive-thru. Instead of ordering from a drive-thru kiosk, guests order ahead and just pick up on-site. We’ve even seen some QSRs adjusting their drive-thrus so that if they have multiple lanes, one [of them] handles only those guests ordering ahead. And we’re even seeing customers that had no ability to install a drive-thru, like those in shopping centers or malls, offer a drive-thru experience right at the curb.”

He also noted that for these new approaches to be successful, “the key … is an engaging mobile experience that plugs directly into the loyalty program and into the POS system, with an ability for the guest to select how they want to receive their order. The mobile app opens a line of communication that is necessary to ensure a great guest experience.”