Chicago, December 9, 2020 —Even with COVID cases surging throughout the U.S. and some states reducing restaurant capacity, customer transaction declines at major restaurant chains improved in November from October to -8% compared to a year ago, a 1-point gain from October’s -9% decline, reports  The NPD Group.   This improvement was aided by major quick service restaurant chains’ proficiency in offering off-premises services, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery. Transaction declines at quick service restaurant chains, which represent the bulk of industry transactions, were down -7% in November versus year ago,  according to NPD’s CREST® Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 75 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53% of the commercial restaurant traffic in U.S. 

“Major quick service restaurant chains have learned to expand their already high capacity for off-premises volumes,” says David Portalatin, NPD
food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America
. “We should continue to expect drive-thru and delivery to be performance drivers for the best performing restaurant operators as consumers continue to shift meal occasions to the home.” 

While dine-in restaurant traffic for the total industry, chains and independents, declined by -53% in October compared to year ago, off-premises visits increased by +21%.  Total restaurant carry-out, which holds the largest traffic share of off-premises services at 46%, increased by +6%; drive-thru, which represents 43% share of traffic, grew by +24%; and delivery, which represents 11% share, realized a gain of +125% in October over year ago, according to NPD’s foodservice market research, which daily tracks how U.S. consumers use restaurants and foodservice outlets.

Off-premises gains, however, come at the expense of full-service restaurants, which are mostly dine-in operations. Although full service restaurant chains have pivoted to offer more off-premises services, like carry-out and delivery, customer transaction declines remain in the double-digits. In November, full service transactions were down -23%, declines deepened in the latter half of the month as the rise of COVID cases resulted in restaurant capacity and dine-in restrictions across the country.