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Key takeaways

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers have no plans to return to their pre-pandemic habits of eating out at restaurants in the next six months.
  • Convenient eating out has become a regular part of the restaurant experience, with 61% of consumers ordering takeout or delivery at least once a week, up from 29% a year ago and 18% before the pandemic.
  • Demand for frictionless digital experiences remains at the top of the menu. More than half (57%) of consumers who order takeout or delivery prefer to use a digital app; nearly two-thirds (67%) of diners who eat on-site prefer to order their food digitally.
  • One-third of consumers say improved cleanliness and safety protocols are important to get them back to eating at restaurants sooner and more often.

Why this matters

The restaurant industry has been on a rollercoaster ride for nearly two years as changes fueled by COVID -19 continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Deloitte’s new report, “The Restaurant of the Future: A Vision Evolves” examines how consumer demand for convenience, digital experiences, and security is having a lasting impact on restaurant business models. The report is based on a September 2021 survey of 1,000 Americans who had ordered at a restaurant in the past three months.

Consumers savor convenient dining options

While restaurants used to be synonymous with a traditional dining room, the preference for the convenience of eating out is growing and driving consumer demand for quality and variety in a restaurant-style. In fact, 64% of consumers do not plan to return to their previous habits of eating out at restaurants in the next six months.

  • Takeout and delivery orders are on the rise, even as restaurants reopen. 61% of consumers order takeout or delivery from restaurants at least once a week, up from 29% a year ago and 18% before the pandemic.
  • Quality is a key ingredient in all orders, with three in five customers expecting the same quality and freshness in delivery and takeout as in the dining room.
  • Consumers are most likely to order from quick-service restaurants (QSRs) at 62.6%, followed by fast-casual restaurants (52%) and casual dining establishments (40.5%). Spending at quick-service restaurants is also up more than 100% year-over-year.
  • Whether dining in or out, nearly three-quarters of respondents (68%) do not want to wait more than 30 minutes for their meal (unchanged from 2020), demonstrating the continued preference for quick service.
  • In addition, an overwhelming 79% of consumers say they are likely to order from ghost kitchens, a trend that is 20% higher than a year ago and 32% higher than two years ago.
  • Among the many options for restaurant orders, the drive-through is the preferred method, with 37% of respondents citing it as their first choice.

Key quote

“It’s been said that the only constant changes, which holds true for the restaurant industry today. The pandemic has accelerated the progress of the restaurant of the future, calling for fundamental shifts in business models to meet new demands. Now, amid continued pressures in areas like supply chain, safety-related costs, and labor availability costs, restaurants should work strategically to build loyalty among on-premises and off-premises diners. Those that can quickly adapt and meet diners’ evolving demands for convenience, frictionless digital experiences and safety can be poised to not only survive but thrive.” – Jean Chick, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and U.S. restaurant and foodservice leader

Diners order frictionless digital experiences

Driven by demand for contactless delivery, the pandemic has rapidly accelerated digitization in the restaurant industry. Now, restaurants are using technology to transform the dining experience both outside and inside the establishments, improving not only delivery but also the ordering process, food preparation, and payment options – and consumers are excited.

More than half of consumers (57%) use a digital app to order food at restaurants, up from 54% in 2020. However, digital ordering at restaurants is growing even faster, with nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) preferring to order their food digitally (up from 53% in 2020), even if it means less interaction with service staff.

  • When it comes to which channel they use to order their food, 40% of consumers prefer a restaurant’s own website or app, compared to 11% who prefer a third-party ordering and delivery platform.
  • Advanced technologies are becoming more popular, with 4 in 5 (81%) who would order through an automated voice system integrated into the drive-through lane. Additionally, the number of consumers willing to have their food delivered by a drone or driverless car is up 10% year-over-year.
  • Technology is making its way into kitchens to improve order accuracy, efficiency, and cost control. More than half of survey respondents (54%) would order from a partially or fully automated kitchen.
  • Food payment is also evolving, with a quarter of customers preferring a digital or contactless payment method to a physical one.
  • Loyalty programs are another area where technology is playing a role: The average consumer participates in two restaurant loyalty programs, and 79% of respondents said their participation influences where they dine out.

The importance of safety protocols on the menu

Restaurants have always been concerned about safety. However, the long-term effects of the pandemic continue to influence consumers’ feelings about restaurant visits and the food they order. According to the study, consumers need to be able to see the procedures in place to protect the preparation and transportation of their food in order to gain confidence in going to a restaurant.

  • One-third (33%) of all consumers say improved cleanliness and safety protocols are important in making them more likely to return to restaurants and eat out more often. This is especially true for Boomers (32.3%), Generation X (23%), and Millennials (25.2%), while safety is less important to Generation Z (4.9%).
  • More than half (55%) of respondents are willing to pay between 10% and 50% more to be informed about the safety and cleanliness of their food preparation and transportation.
  • Nearly half (45%) of consumers are unlikely to return to a restaurant where there has been a food safety incident.