Dine in vs. takeout trends: Restaurant industry stats for 2021

Key takeaways

  • Consumer trends have shown a dramatic increase in off-premise sales compared to pre-pandemic numbers, and it’s set to continue rising post-COVID

  • Industry reports note that online ordering and third-party delivery apps have created greater acceptance of takeout and delivery options

  • Full-service and casual dining restaurants alike are still seeing healthy on-premise business with patrons eager to dine out after closure mandates were removed

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The restaurant industry has seen a dramatic rise in off-premise sales. Takeout and delivery were gaining popularity even before the coronavirus pandemic struck the world in 2020, and pandemic-related closures only accelerated consumer trends toward ordering food via mobile app and picking it up curbside rather than enjoying it in a restaurant dining room. 

Dine-in is alive and well, with a healthy number of consumers going out for a full dining experience on a regular basis. However, reports covering the state of the restaurant industry note that the majority of the growth lies with off-premise sales. 

Restaurant owners and food service operators with a heavy reliance on on-premise sales shouldn’t feel the need to make a dramatic shift toward takeout or delivery. Still, they could benefit by taking note of these dine-in vs. takeout trends, thinking about any changes or partnerships that may help boost their bottom line. 

People are eating in more often

When pandemic-related mandates forced restaurants to close, consumers naturally gravitated toward eating in. Americans broke pre-COVID habits of going out regularly, replacing them with new habits around home cooking. Restaurant food came in the form of online ordering, takeout, and delivery. 

Simply put, those habits stuck even after closures were lifted. Nearly half of all American adults report cooking in for breakfast and lunch every day, with roughly one-third cooking in every day for dinner. More than 90% of those respondents said they plan to eat at home just as frequently, if not more frequently, moving forward.

People’s reasons for dining in more often vary, but here are some of the more prominent motivators for choosing to cook or order takeout:

  • Convenience:

    People like saving the hassle of making the trip to a restaurant, especially when traffic, parking, cold weather, or managing children come into play.

  • Comfort:

    People gravitate toward enjoying food in front of the TV or a movie at home.

  • Cost:

    Spending less money by cooking rather than ordering food has been necessary for many people who found themselves out of work during the pandemic.

Takeout and delivery are still growing

Dine in vs takeout trends: food in take-out containers

The pandemic caused a seismic shift around how guests view dining experiences. According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly 70% of American adults are now more likely to order takeout than they were pre-pandemic. This isn’t limited to quick-service restaurants (QSR) either: a whopping 80% of fine dining and casual restaurant owners enhanced their takeout options.

People aren’t just more inclined to order takeout and delivery; they’re doing it in real-time. Sixty percent of Americans order takeout or delivery at least once a week, and that same figure represents the balance of takeout and delivery vs. dine-in orders among millennials. 

Restaurants have reopened their doors, and patrons are certainly returning to the dining room, but the return of in-person dining hasn’t exactly been the full “return to normalcy” some would’ve imagined for a post-COVID world. Concepts that rely more heavily on takeout and delivery have continued to see off-premise sales dominate their cash flow. Virtual-only restaurants, also known as ghost kitchens, which exist solely on third-party delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats, have also risen to prominence as an entirely new restaurant category.

Diners prefer ordering directly from restaurants

While nearly one-third of Americans use third-party delivery apps to order food at least twice a week, nearly 40% said they’ve never used services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats, and instead prefer to order from restaurants directly. Here are a few reasons why:

    • Bad press:

      Third-party apps have been under fire for charging high commissions that eat into restaurant profits.

    • Community support:

      Consumer trends have shifted toward supporting local businesses when possible, especially in the restaurant industry.

    • Technology adaptation:

      Millennials and younger generations are more inclined to use mobile apps for ordering food, while other customers are likely to order by calling the restaurant themselves or visiting their

      website

      .

Restaurant owners have a mixed relationship with delivery apps. While these services have been reported to increase sales by upwards of 20%, and far more when dine-in business was shut down, nearly half of restaurateurs say that third-party delivery apps detract from their restaurant’s relationship with its customers. 

Many restaurant operators can’t afford to hire their own delivery fleet, making third-party delivery options a necessity. Others see them as a strong marketing move, since these apps reach a much broader audience than any single restaurateur could achieve. 

Online ordering has become a restaurant industry necessity 

Smiling woman ordering food online via her phone

Regardless of whether they’re ordering from restaurants directly or through third-party apps, consumer trends unanimously point toward online ordering as an integral software tool for restaurant owners. Online ordering has grown more than three times faster than dine-in business over the last seven years, and spiked by as much as 40x during the onset of the pandemic.

Online ordering goes beyond supplementing the in-person experience as well, driving bottom line results. Some restaurants reported a nearly 20% increase in average customer spend from upsell features built into the online ordering process. Additionally, customers who order from a restaurant online will visit that restaurant almost 70% more often than those who don’t.

When looking at dine-in vs. takeout trends, online ordering transcends both realms. An increasing number of full-service restaurants are having their customers place their orders digitally. These experiences eliminate the need for dedicated servers, instead instructing patrons to scan a QR code to access the menu and enter any modifications prior to submitting their selections, which go straight to the kitchen and are brought to the table by runners. This approach saves substantial labor costs as well as the need to hire new team members during an industry-wide staff shortage

Restaurant operators should use these trends to their advantage

Whether you’re looking to open a new restaurant or are thinking about how to move the needle for your current business, positioning yourself around these dine-in vs. takeout trends would be a step in the right direction. Every restaurant is different, and should adopt strategies and tactics that fit your service model and menu items while catering to evolving consumer trends. 

Regardless of the direction you go, automating your operations will inevitably save you valuable time and resources to boost your bottom line. Dine-in traffic has returned, making reservation and waitlist management more important than ever. And when it comes to getting your name out there, a tailored marketing approach will help you get the most bang for your buck. 

Yelp allows restaurant owners and operators to streamline both their dine-in and takeout services. Integrating with most major POS systems, Yelp provides a full front-of-house suite of services, easily managed from one iPad. Get started with Yelp today.

By: Benjamin Brown