New Restaurant Trends: Digital-Only Pickup Locations

Picture of a person putting a sticker on a takeout order with text that says “Digital Only Pickup

Food pickup has become extremely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that trend only grows as restaurants strive to meet consumer demand. Restaurants like Chipotle saw a large chunk of their business in 2020 come from digital orders and have found many ways to improve upon this model.

One such innovation is the digital-only food pickup location. Let’s look at this common trend the restaurant industry is seeing today and how it’s affecting the average consumer.

What is a Digital Restaurant?

Digital-only food pickup locations generally do not have a dining room where customers can order their food and take it to a table. Instead, these locations process and prepare orders through digital technology so customers can arrive, pick up their food, and head out.

Once customers have picked up their items, they take them home instead of eating at the location. This type of ordering surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the continued importance of overall health in the public eye has helped it grow.

Dining While Working From Home

This shift to work-from-home jobs has also contributed to the rise of digital-only pickup orders. As time at home continues to be valued more, many are also looking to eat at home more often.

Digital-only pickup locations allow customers to receive food without going to a sizeable dine-in area, allowing them to avoid busy lines and long wait times.

Benefits of Digital-Only Pickup

During the pandemic, pickup orders increased, but there are many other reasons why the trend continues to grow in popularity.

For starters, businesses such as Sweetgreen (a Los Angeles-based salad chain) see digital-only locations as a way to meet consumer demand much quicker than they could at a dine-in location. By eliminating the need to seat customers and serve them in person, restaurants can focus solely on preparing food and preparing it quickly.

Digital-only pickup location restaurants can also survive in areas where a full dine-in location might not be able to. Digital-only pickup locations also require much fewer staff and less real estate to run correctly, so their expenses are far less than that of a sit-down restaurant.

Who is Implementing Digital-Only Pickup?

While some thought digital-only restaurants would only last during the height of the pandemic or that only smaller-scale restaurants would adopt the practice, the opposite has been true.

For example, Panera announced in the summer of 2022 that they would open three new digital-only locations in the United States. These are much smaller locations than their standard counterparts and serve digital pickup orders to customers and third-party delivery services.

Called “Panera To Go,” it is very likely that many other large restaurant chains will follow suit in the future and create their own smaller, digital-only pickup locations.

Outlook of Digital-Only Pickup Locations

Smaller locations specializing in digital-only pickup orders will continue popping up as consumer demand increases. While the rate at which these locations appear might slow down compared to how quickly they have been growing in 2020 and 2021, growth is still likely.

Much of this growth is dependent on the consumer. If customers continue to purchase meals to-go through digital means, then restaurants are much more likely to shift their resources to creating digital-only locations.

This shift can pay off in the long run, as they free up their in-person locations to handle dine-in customers and give pickup orders a space where they can be a priority. As the demand for digital-only pickup locations continues to grow in the coming years, restaurants will likely create brand new, innovative practices to capitalize on the trend.

Preparing Your Restaurant for the Future

Whether your restaurant is looking into digital pickup locations, preparing for the future means supplying your business with the right equipment and knowledge.

Ensuring that your locations are up-to-date on food safety best practices and adequately stocked with the right equipment may spell the difference between capitalizing on a great opportunity or being left behind.

Ask your distributor about products from NCCO that can help you stay stocked and ready.