Restaurant guests can eat inside, but they still want to dine off-premise

Operators, franchisors and franchisees may want to sit down. There is good news to go around.

Eating out is coming back, but as operators may have predicted, off-premise dining is not going anywhere. RMS surveyed more than 800 respondents nationwide to weigh in on dining behavior trends. Take a quick look at the facts:

Fact 1: Diners are eating out more frequently. In May 2021, 62% of respondents reported at least one weekly dine-in visit vs. only 42% in February.

And yes, people long to sit down with friends and family inside a restaurant. In fact, 6 out of 10 respondents said they missed the experience of dining out. Things aren’t much different across the pond. In June 2021, RMS surveyed more than 800 UK consumers about their dining habits and found that 2 in 5 respondents were spending more on restaurants in an average week than they were three months ago.

Fact 2: 66% of consumers value the in-person experience, stating that off-premise is not a replacement for dine-in.

Here’s the second bit of good news: Data indicates that this sentiment will not recede post-COVID. Rather, RMS sees it becoming a way of life. “Guests aren’t viewing takeout and delivery as replacements for dining in,” says Joel Davis, RMS Chief Strategy Officer. “Takeout serves another purpose. Consumers have come to rely on dining off-premises as a replacement for cooking at home, much like a food subscription service. Takeout is not a social event or experience like dining out in a restaurant — it’s more of a household assist.”

Fact 3: Takeout is taking down delivery. More than two-thirds — 67% — consider takeout crucial going forward, vs. 60% who prefer delivery.

Maybe it’s the added fees third-party delivery services charge or that people have become more comfortable leaving the house, but we’ve seen a shift from early COVID days of food delivery to avoiding the intermediary and fetching it yourself.

What was born out of necessity has become habit. Consumers have come to depend on and enjoy the ease of takeout and delivery. This rings especially true among younger generations. Among the four generations surveyed (boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z), the latter two groups, at 58% and 60% respectively, are more likely to choose takeout when ordering off-premise.

Fact 4: Takeout and delivery are welcoming another mode of dining off-premises that’s growing in popularity (and financial backing): the ghost kitchen.

Also known as virtual, shadow or cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens offer a unique way to meet the demand for off-premise dining. With no high-rent location requiring front-of-house staff, these entities simply are what they state: a kitchen. Food is prepared in the ghost kitchen and is delivered by a third party (like DoorDash) or occasionally via that kitchen’s impromptu, homegrown drive-thru. 

Household names like Wendy’s, Chipotle, Applebee’s, Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy, even Chuck E. Cheese, are all pursuing some form of online-only business. According to Euromonitor, there are 1,500 ghost kitchens located in the US, at least 7,500 in China, at least 3,500 in India, and 750 in the UK.

While the future of the pandemic remains unknown, there are some things to count on. Guests will want to socialize and dine in at their favorite restaurants, and they’re also going to continue ordering takeout. Conversely, the lines that once clearly demarcated eat-in only, takeout and drive-thru will become increasingly blurred. And along the way, we’ll collectively discover new concepts that blend them all.

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For more than 25 years, RMS has been helping some of the world’s largest restaurant brands succeed. Using a proprietary approach, patented data analysis and tech-enabled services, we can help you make sense of all your sales channels and understand which menu items are frequently bought together. Let our experts show you how we can build tailored pricing strategies and profitable menus that will boost your brand’s profits. Get in touch or schedule a demo today. We’re here to help.

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