Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea that a restaurant (save for the fast-food segment) would devote serious resources to expanding its operations in the take-out sector would be treated with derision. Why, after all, would a restaurant operator choose to sacrifice valuables in appetizers, beverages (particularly potent potables) and dessert? However, the COVID-19 has dramatically changed how the restaurant industry looks at carry-out:
- Many consumers are leery of eating in a restaurant (as of the June 2021 edition of the Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey, 52% of respondents still noted that they were eating less often indoors in restaurants because of the pandemic), but still desire their favorite dishes from local eateries.
- A number of states and localities have loosened liquor laws, allowing the to-go sale of alcoholic beverages – thus reserving a source of revenue for many casual restaurants.
- While dining apps (e.g., UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub) have become increasingly popular (as of the June 2021 edition of The Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey, 27% of respondents noted that they were ordering a meal from a restaurant via a 3rd party app more because of the pandemic), the fees they charge can add greatly to the cost of a meal.
- Restaurants have expanded curbside delivery as a way to recapture market share (as of the June 2021 edition of The Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey, 34% of respondents noted that they were ordering carry-out from a restaurant more often because of the pandemic).
A number of restaurant chains have announced plans to expand curbside delivery options, refurbish restaurants to exclusively cater to drive-through customers, or launch new operations specializing in pickup and delivery. In most cases, this involved adding kitchen capacity dedicated to carry-out and delivery orders as kitchens were not equipped to handle off-premises orders along with a busy period of on-site dining. However, the space near the entrance meant for greeting and seating diners was not enough to also accommodate delivery and carry-out operations.
Thus, the recent news by TGI Friday’s that they would be developing a small format restaurant devoted to curbside and off-site delivery was of interest. Given the chain’s reputation as a leading casual sit-down restaurant, this entrance into the world of off-site dining can be interpreted to indicate that this will be a permanent change to US dining habits – even after the threat of the pandemic recedes.
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