Large Meal Off-Premise Consumer Behaviors

COVID-19 has been a huge driver in the popularity of family meals, as restaurants in every segment have put together well-priced packages for consumers that have been asked by their states to stay at home. In tandem, quick service restaurants [QSRs], especially those with drive up service, have increased their menu offerings of value meals and deals. It is clear that economy minded to-go meals are a lure for consumers, because of the economic crisis that is resulting from the pandemic.

Data Points: Consumer Carry Out Information

  • According to a new Oracle Food and Beverage study, 39% of American consumers surveyed revealed they are ordering more often from their local restaurant than before the pandemic started. Before stay-at-home orders were issued, 95% of Americans admitted they often ordered take-out, but that number slipped to 88% in the midst of the stay-at-home orders. As restrictions ease, the volume of take-out orders is expected to remain below pre-stay-at-home benchmarks with 79% of US respondents planning to order take-out at least once a month. The strongest return to weekly takeout rituals in the US will be Generation X with 44% planning to order weekly once restaurants reopen. Generation X encompasses those born between the years 1965 and 1980, which makes them between the ages of 40-55 in 2020.

Mixed Take-out Bag

New offering Will continue offering

  • Despite their ubiquity, tacos have grown +40% on menus over the past decade, with varieties like breakfast tacos and street tacos showing the fastest growth. Tacos also have proliferated across menu types, becoming staples at American casual-dining operators, and more recently appearing in taco kits to-go.

Mexican dish LTOs among the top 200 chains

  • For those American consumers that fall into the Millennial age cohort, and those that reside in an upper-income household, about two-thirds would like to be able to purchase family meal bundles for meals other than just dinner. Two quick statistics surrounding meal kits [which includes “heat-and-eat and take-and-bake“] are: “41% of diners say they’ve tried these types of restaurant meals and 36% have tried a fresh meal kit from a restaurant.” Although a majority of consumers report that they will order them again, 50% of them feel they’re too much work or often are overpriced. When looking specifically at those consumers that are enamored with hands-on items, “six in 10 would like build-your-own pizza, tacos, or burrito kits, pre-prepped barbecue kits, ready-to-grill restaurant steaks, take-and-bake desserts, and signature seasonings/sauces. About half are interested in decorate-your-own dessert or cocktail kits.”

Predicted Post Pandemic Fast Food Trends

1. Off-Premises as a Priority

  • Moving forward past the pandemic, research shows that “off-premise dining” will continue to be the preferred option for most customers. According to SMG, while going out for a nice dinner was the top priority for most consumers once restrictions were eased, only 42% reported that they would be ready to do that within the first month. “That leaves more than 50% of consumers still preferring to opt for drive-thru, pick-up, or delivery to get food from restaurants”, even when told they could dine-in.

The Harris Poll asked consumers how long it would take them to do each of the following activities (and how soon) once they saw evidence of the curve flattening:

  • According to a June 2020 McKinsey Pulse Survey which surveyed ~1,000 American adults “who had visited QSRs or casual-dining restaurants within the past year”, nervous and anxious seem to be the prevailing emotions that most consumers are associating with sit-down dine-in restaurants. Eighty percent of those asked reported that they had “medium to high anxiety levels about the idea of returning to dine-in restaurants”, with more than 50% revealing that they would be “highly anxious.” Juxtapose this with “consumer sentiment regarding drive-through dining, about which only 16% of respondents reported high anxiety.”

More than 80 percent of survey respondents reported medium to high anxiety levels

  • The takeaway here is that restaurants should not count on indoor dining to return to pre-COVID-19 sales levels anytime soon, and should focus on take-out for the foreseeable future by optimizing carryout, curbside, and drive-through operations.
  • According to David Portalatin, the food industry adviser for the NPD Group, “…many QSRs when given the opportunity to reopen dining rooms are choosing not to because they have already made the pivot to optimize that off-premise experience.”

2. Meal Kits

  • According to Kerry Insights, in order to create a revenue stream, and to meet consumer demand during the pandemic, some foodservice chains and restaurants are now offering meal kits to take home and have people assemble themselves. “Although such innovations were pioneered in part as a way for struggling restaurants to stay viable, giving customers the opportunity to purchase multiple meals at once while reducing back-of-kitchen work, foodservice and restaurant meal kits may be here to stay.”

Foodservice meal kits and components

3. Restaurants Offering Meal Kits/Bundles for Takeout

  • Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh started selling family meals in early April, which was almost at the very beginning of the pandemic. This move turned out well for them. According to Devin Handler, VP of marketing at Garbanzo, “[we] looked over [our] catering offerings and developed a menu where guests could mix and match sauces, meats, veggies and salads with six-packs of pita and falafel. [We] didn’t use any new SKUs or packaging and [were] able to launch a new product by simply reconfiguring existing menu items. What also helped was [that we] already batch cook various ingredients and when [we] know [we have] a large bulk to-go order out that day, [we] will just cook more batches to accommodate those orders.” Handler reports that even just a “few weeks into offering family meals, [our] sales [were] increasing. He also predicted “that the family style will be used for small office catering in the future.” Devin Handler went on to reveal that “[s]o bottom line it’s a creative merchandising play with existing packaging and SKUs that we think was done in such a way that won’t only sort of satiate the moment but will live beyond and be a valuable offering for our guests.”


El Pollo Loco

  • Bartaco, much like El Pollo Loco, already had the “infrastructure to create meal bundles in place with its party packs, and decided to roll out family packs beginning mid-March.” According to Scott Lawton, bartaco co-founder, “[the company] chose to offer a roasted chicken pack and a taco pack offering. The taco pack provides two taco fillings from its standard taco menu, which offers fillings such as chicken, cauliflower, baja fish, carnitas, mushroom, pork belly, duck and oyster. The taco pack also carries well and can be reheated if it is not eaten right away,” Lawton reflected on the learning curve during the pandemic and noted that “[w]e are learning a lot in these crazy times — our team is really creative and as we respond to the needs of our guests, I am taking careful notes. This is a great opportunity to really focus on takeout and delivery and get it right for our guests. So far, guests and loyal diners have provided positive feedback over [our] family packs. People have been posting themselves on social media bartaco’ing at home and it’s been really amazing to see.”


  • Torchy’s Tacos introduced its family packs when a majority of states were under stay-at-home orders. They did this “to appeal to consumers looking for customizable meal options for their families”, according to Scott Hudler, Torchy’s Tacos CMO. Hudler reported that “Torchy’s Tacos is offering family packs that serve four to five people and provides a choice of meat, tortillas and toppings, rice, beans and chips for about $25. [We are] also offering to-go selections from [our] bar in states where it is allowed. These selections include an At-Home Margarita Kit, which provides a bottle of tequila, housemade sweet and sour, salt and lime.” Hudler went on to discuss consumer sentiment surrounding their offerings and revealed that “[d]emand for these take-home offerings has been particularly positive. To meet demand, [we] added [our] top-selling Trailer Park Taco to [our] family pack menu. [We]also added a new single-serve Bootleg Margarita Kit, Mimosa and Bloody Mary Kits and Titos + Mixers [as offerings to our] guests in Texas.” Scott Hudler reflected on the future and revealed that “[…] like everyone else in the restaurant industry, [we] are considering what our menu and restaurants will look like once we are able to reopen our doors to guests. We expect delivery and takeout will continue to be a bigger emphasis for us, and given guest feedback, [we] are certainly considering making some of our newer rollouts, such as family packs, a more permanent part of our menu offerings.”

Torchys Tacos

Chick-fil-A logo

Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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