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 last year.
Spend was up 45% to £723m over this time frame, with consumers tending to place larger-than-average orders at the drive-thru window. 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. In total, I17 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. 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.
Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Subway, Taco Bell, Krispy Kreme & Tim Hortons are also getting in on the act to expand their reach beyond the high street where footfall is in decline. But it’s not just big name brands, Papa's Fish & Chips opened its first drive thru in December as an additional arm to its Kingswood Retail Park restaurant in Hull.
NPD predicts more drive-thrus will open as sites are generally cheaper than on the high street and planning permission is often easier to obtain. In addition, it is likely that drive-thrus allow restaurant chains to keep more revenue and profits compared to delivery, where commission is often paid to a third party. Dominic Allport, insights director (Foodservice), The NPD Group, says: “Already on the rise, there’s no question that the popularity of drive-thru in Britain has had a boost from COVID-19 as people tend to feel safer and more secure in their cars. Ordering in advance via an app, and a contactless experience at the window, offers additional reassurance to drivers and their passengers, and as a result, many have shown their preference for the drive-thru.
"The format is not new to some of the major foodservice operators like McDonalds, who have 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.
"As we face a new way of living, with perhaps more time in our cars and a greater reliance on online and digital ordering, it makes sense for operators to invest in drive-thru, and we expect to see it expand beyond coffee and burgers to pizza, Indian, vegan and other cuisines.”