The car’s the star as GB’s drive-thru grows in popularity –
from coffee to curry, pizza to pies
January 2020: The trend for ordering food and drinks from our 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. 17 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. Chains such as 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. Coffee chains including Costa Coffee, Starbucks & Tim Hortons are also busy getting in on the act to expand their reach beyond the high street where footfall is in decline. But it’s not just coffee chains, other QSR chains opening drive-thrus include Subway, Taco Bell and Krispy Kreme. In the three-month period between September and November 2020, drive-thru accounted for 11% of all eating out visits at QSR and 12% of spend, both up sharply up versus a year ago.
During the month of November, drive-thru visits reached 37 million, up 27% versus November 2019, and drive-thru spend rose 73% to £213 million. Dinner and treating occasions were the main beneficiaries, with dinner 20% more important compared to pre-COVID-19 levels and treating occasions up 47%, as consumers looked to relieve the boredom of lockdown.
Much of the growth in drive-thru is linked to the coronavirus pandemic as people spend more time in their cars than on public transport, and for some people, there’s often an added sense of COVID-19 security when ordering from a car. In addition, Office for National Statistics1 data tells us that online shopping accounted for a record 36% of all retail sales during November, meaning large numbers of delivery vans on our roads potentially using drive-thru services.
Delivery dominates in Britain, but in
the US it’s another story
QSR delivery remains big business in the GB, with £1.6bn spent by consumers during the three months to November 2020, 27% of total QSR spend. This is more than twice the amount spent on QSR drive-thrus over the same period (12% of total QSR spend). But while QSR drive-thru is smaller than QSR delivery, its undoubted popularity with consumers suggests it will grow strongly. NPD expects that QSR chains will continue to open drive-thrus, 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.
Britain has a long way to go if it is to catch up with the dominance of drive-thru in the US. In the US, there were 4.7 billion QSR drive-thru visits in the three months September to November, which equates to 42% of all QSR visits, a share that is almost four times bigger than the GB equivalent. Unlike Britain, drive-thru is far bigger than home delivery, with delivery was 12% of total spend in the three months, compared to 38% for drive-thru.
What’s on the drive-thru menu?
As the drive-thru grows in popularity across Britain, new operators are entering the market and expanding the menu on offer beyond traditional fast food and coffee. Fast food start up @pizza is planning to launch the GB’s first freshly cooked pizza drive-thru in locations in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and British meat alternative brand Meatless Farm launched a temporary plant-based pop up drive-thru & walk-thru in London. The NPD Group expects to see more drive-thrus offer an increasingly varied range of cuisines, including Pan Asian, and Indian food to meet our desire for spicy foods.
Allport, Insights Director (Foodservice), The NPD Group, said: “Already on the ascendant, 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.”