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For the 12 months ended in August, online and physical visits to fast-casual restaurants were up 8%, The NPD Group reported this week.

Fast-casual traffic rebounds in summer, NPD Group says

Off-premises options build visits in wake of segment’s steep declines in 2020

Customers are returning to the fast-casual segment after steep declines in visits during the pandemic, The NPD Group says.

For the 12 months ended in August, online and physical visits to fast-casual restaurants were up 8%, the analytics firm reported this week.

“In the quarter ending June 2020, at the height of pandemic lockdowns and restaurant restrictions, fast-casual visits were down 23% compared to the prior year, according to NPD’s daily tracking of the U.S. restaurant industry,” the company said.

“Fast-casual restaurants have capitalized on the lessons they learned during the pandemic,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser and author of “Eating Patterns in America,” in a statement.

“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.”

NPD said that fast-casual restaurants, early in the pandemic, lacked the drive-thru capabilities and off-premises operational efficiencies of traditional quick-service restaurants.

“However, fast-casual chains that had a solid off-premises business before the pandemic grew traffic and traffic share during this time,” NPD noted.

Fast-casual brands have since “put more focus on their off-premises operations and have plans to add or expand drive-thru operations,” NPD said.

“As a result of these and other efforts, fast-casual off-premises orders in the year ending August 2021 increased by 30% over a year ago,” NPD said. “Within fast casual, off-premises traffic went from being just over half of its traffic pre-pandemic to over 80% of traffic in the year ending August 2021.”

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