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Data: Foot traffic at Domino’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut tumble by more than half during COVID-19

Brooke DiPalma
·Associate Producer
·3 min read
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The fast food industry’s pivot to digital and take-out has come with material benefits — but it’s come at a cost to foot traffic, according to recent data.

In-person visits at fast food chains nationwide are still dramatically lower than before the onset of COVID-19, according to Gravy Analytics, a location intelligence platform. Those findings dovetail with similar data showing the pandemic — which sparked widespread lockdowns that forced many food and beverage establishments to adopt a “to go only” format driven by mobile — has led to shifts in consumer behavior that will likely outlast the virus.

As of Dec. 8, foot traffic at locations of Burger King, Popeyes (QSR), KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell (YUM), Domino’s (DPZ), Papa John’s (PZZA), and Starbucks (SBUX) is down more than 50% compared to where it was in February of 2020, Gravy’s data shows.

Meanwhile, foot traffic at fast food joints like Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s (MCD), Wendy’s (WEN), Dunkin’ and Chipotle (CMG) is down more than 40% from pre-pandemic levels.

As COVID-19 infections surge anew, the swoon is likely to persist as consumers hunker down once again for what public health experts warn will be a brutal winter.

“For the Christmas and New Years holidays, it is likely that the foot traffic will mirror what we saw during the week of Thanksgiving, with travelers eating fast food around the holidays but a steep decline on the holidays themselves as people opt to stay home with family and friends,” Jolene Wiggins, CMO of Gravy Analytics, told Yahoo Finance recently.

Tough year could lead to ‘exceptionally strong 2021’

(SOURCE: Gravy Analytics) Foot traffic to fast food chains nationwide from February of 2020 to December 8th, 2020.
Foot traffic to fast food chains nationwide from February of 2020 to December 8th, 2020. (SOURCE: Gravy Analytics)

Data Intelligence platform Placer.ai also noted recently that the “shift away from schools and normal commute routines” hit breakfast menu offerings at chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks or Panera this year. Yet Ethan Chernofsky, Placer.ai’s CMO, suggests this won’t last long into the new year.

Accordingly, fast food giants are also stepping up their game to bring food directly to the consumer. Starbucks (SBUX) is doubling down on innovation as it eyes tech-enabled drive-thru stores.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is also doubling down on the three “Ds”: digital, delivery and drive-thru. In addition, Restaurant Brands International announced plans to add more than 10,000 digital drive-thru menu boards to Tim Hortons and Burger King restaurants in the US and Canada by the end of 2022.

In an interview on Yahoo Finance earlier this week, Jose Cil, RBI CEO, called the impact of the coronavirus pandemic “an important moment for for the industry in general” as consumers quickly looked to drive thru options, contactless delivery and curbside pickup.

However, as a vaccine gets rolled out, and students and employees transition back to on-site learning and work, fast food traffic is likely to get a boost.

“With the greater return of commutes, work and school routines there should be an equivalent return of breakfast traffic, giving these QSR (quick-service restaurant brands) a boost,” Placer.ai wrote in a recent analysis.

“This is further reason to believe that many QSR brands could see an exceptionally strong 2021 as the sector seems to be perfectly aligned with all key trends,” according to Chernofsky.

“On the one hand, they gain back morning visits while they remain aligned with economic uncertainty and will still benefit from their strength in takeaway and drive-thru,” he added.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer, booker and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

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