During a day-long event that included delivery, technology and restaurant experts, analysts from Cowen’s Restaurant & Food Technology Summit dove into the latest metrics showing where restaurants are heading after the worst impacts of the pandemic recede. One underlying theme, which has become a common refrain is that the restaurant industry has seen two to three years worth of acceleration over these last two, very painful months.
Recapping a fireside chat with Shake Shack, the popular burger brand reported it has seen digital sales comprise 84 percent of its sales mix throughout April. The company expects that such a high level of digital sales is likely unsustainable, but added that it expects the share of sales coming through digital channels to “substantially outpace pre-COVID-19 levels.”
Blaze Pizza CEO Mandy Shaw said that in stores where dining rooms are reopening, the brand is regaining non-digital business while maintaining the elevated level of digital sales seen throughout the pandemic.
Third-party delivery panelists were unanimous that a potential Uber/Grubhub tie-up was a logical move given the need of industry consolidation. They posited that any potential acquisition would be a “validation of third-party delivery’s long-term importance.”
Another trend that’s widely expected to persist is the popularity of drive-thru locations, which make it easy for brands to streamline their curbside and takeout operations at higher volumes than locations without the car-friendly lanes. Looking ahead, presenters speculated that many types of restaurant real estate would see rent deflation, with a big exception for drive-thru-enabled locations that are expected to be more in-demand than ever.
For locations without a drive-thru lane, cutting a hole in one wall to add a pickup window is another trend that’s changing real estate and creating a more natural system for handling sustained curbside sales.
On the digital side of the industry, presenters predicted that payment through digital wallets and tap-to-pay options were here to stay, as most consumer surveys show that consumers will be leery about any guest touch-points even after the worst of the pandemic has passed.
Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins and Zuul Kitchens CEO Corey Manicone both said their respective ghost kitchen brands are seeing “exponential inbound interest” from prospective restaurant tenants, which would represent yet another trend acceleration in enabling restaurants to add delivery- and takeout-only locations in desirable neighborhoods and trade areas.
Looking at individual day-parts, as most restaurant brands report improved sales during April and May—compared with a March that was terrible across the board for most restaurants—dinner sales have rebounded better than breakfast, which continues to lag lunchtime and dinner business.