In addition to providing convenience and speed, drive-thrus at foodservice establishments have taken on new importance this year with customers looking to social distance due to the coronavirus pandemic. For businesses that offer this service, it has been a lifeline during difficult times.

According to The NPD Group, drive-thru visits increased by over 26% in the April, May and June quarter and represented 42% of all foodservice establishment visits during that time. In July when more businesses were reopened, drive-thru visits still increased by +13%, the highest visit increase among the service modes of on-premises, carry-out and delivery.

Traditional quick service restaurant chains, with the majority of drive-thrus, saw visits decline to a historical low of -17% during the second calendar quarter, but fared much better than other restaurant categories and segments. Fast casual and full service restaurants, which don’t typically have drive-thru operations, experience steeper declines than traditional quick service restaurants.

“Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Fast casual and traditional quick service chains have already announced expansion plans for their drive-thru operations, and we will hear more chains doing the same. Drive-thru and other off-premises operations will be a major part of the US restaurant industry’s recovery and future.”