Customers are returning to fast casual restaurants in the US after initially staying at home during the pandemic. According to the NPD Group, online and physical visits to fast casual restaurants in the year ending August 2021 were up +8% compared to a year ago, comparable to pre-pandemic visits in August 2019.

At the height of pandemic lockdowns and restaurant restrictions in the middle of last year, fast casual visits were down -23% compared to the prior year, according to NPD’s daily tracking of the restaurant industry.

Fast casual restaurants that saw declines early in the pandemic have responded by putting focus on off-premises operations, especially by adding or expanding drive-thru operations.

“Fast casual restaurants have capitalized on the lessons they learned during the pandemic,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Their customers are happy to return because so many fast casual restaurants have built a strong clientele based on their innovation and ability to deliver a quality customer experience.”