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What Will Happen to Restaurant Delivery in a Post-Pandemic World?

Restaurants are reporting packed dining rooms and steady delivery orders. But how long can a boom for both revenue streams last?

By Sarah Brown1851 Franchise Copy Editor
Updated 11:11AM 07/14/21

For both restaurants and their customers, food delivery was an essential lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. WSJ reported in April that around 70% of last year’s U.S. food delivery growth was “purely due to the pandemic,” and delivery orders haven’t slowed down in 2021. According to a special report by QSR Magazine, as of March 2021, restaurant digital orders for delivery had lifted 140% compared to the previous year, suggesting that consumer preference for delivery was not exclusive to the COVID era.

But will pandemic behavior stick around forever?

“It’s unlikely that digital ordering will grow at the same pace it has during the pandemic once restaurants fully open, but it’s table stakes for restaurants now,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor, in the QSR article. “Digital ordering is all about elevated convenience and ease and that’s what makes consumers tick.”

Although delivery sales are predicted to decline, they will likely remain “nearly 50 percent above 2019 levels,” the article said.

The bigger question is whether or not restaurants will be able to balance the double duty of in-person dining and delivery when the demand for both continues to increase.

For restaurants that are more focused on the consumer experience and establishing a connection with customers, delivery will likely take a back seat. Still, most restaurants can’t afford avoiding delivery entirely. COVID-19 forced many brands to establish delivery methods in order to survive, and those methods will need to be reevaluated to make delivery truly profitable.

Some restaurants are steering away from third party delivery companies like DoorDash and Uber Eats, which can charge commission fees of 30% or more per order, and are instead working on starting their own delivery.

Either way, figuring out how to make delivery profitable will be crucial for restaurants in the coming years.