While restaurants are gradually opening up and offering contactless dining, consumers prefer to take away from the stores as it gives them a chance to get out of the houses and yet maintain social distancing norms. Saurabh Kalra, Senior Director-Strategy and Operations, McDonald's India (West and South) says that, "consumers are favouring stores with drive-throughs and pick up windows." Eating in the car has become a big trend. People still want to get out of the house and enjoy their favourite food and beverage but want to do it in the safe environment of their car, adds Kalra.
"Drive-through is a big use case globally but in India, it was never that way because car population increased only in the last 10-15 years. Earlier, only some drive-throughs on the highways would do well, but now even in cities people like picking up food as they want to maintain social distancing," says Kalra. McDonald's started in the US as a drive-through restaurant.
He shares the instance of the Bharuch outlet in Gujarat where sales from drive-throughs are way more than the sales from all channels (dine in, take away) combined during pre-covid times. McDonald's India (West and South) has around 60-70 drive-through restaurants, and 120 pick up windows.
Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) chains are quickly latching on to this trend and offering variations of the 'take-away' options to reach the consumer where they are. In line with this, Tata Starbucks announced the opening of its first drive-through store in India at Ambala Chandigarh Expressway, Zirakpur.
"While it is different strokes for different folks, take away is higher than home delivery," says Navin Gurnaney, CEO, Tata Starbucks. He says that he has been hearing from several consumers that they prefer going to the nearest store to get the beverage of their choice. He adds, as more and more people continue to work from home, this trend is likely to become more significant.
Drive-throughs fit perfectly into this narrative. One reason, says Gurnaney, is the added convenience for customers who want to pick up their orders from their car without having to park. Secondly, many customers don't want to sit in the store due to the current circumstances of the pandemic but still want to enjoy the coffee.
"We weren't looking at this format aggressively six months ago but we are now," he says. Gurnaney didn't share the number of new drive-through stores they are likely to open this year.
"India is an important market for us. We have 187 stores so we have a much more runaway ahead of us than behind us." They will also be looking at retrofitting existing stores to add drive-throughs.
Burger King and McDonald's are also evolving the take-away options to deliver to the consumer where they are, whether it is the nearest mall or the parking lot.
"As of now we are doing three kinds of take away options and it is evolving," says Srinivas Adapa, Chief Marketing Officer at Burger King India.
One is the usual take away from the restaurant. Then of course there are the drive-throughs in 30-40 exclusive Burger King restaurants (though some are closed now due to pandemic).
The latest innovation is the curbside pick up. The user can pre-order the food from the Burger King mobile app and it is delivered to the high-touch point location near to the restaurant - it can be the nearest signal, parking lot or a bank. "This feature is evolving and is especially for consumers who don't want to enter the restaurant. We have also seen consumers in the restaurant use the app to get the food delivered to their table so they can avoid queuing at the counter," says Adapa. Tata Starbucks too is planning to launch a mobile app on similar lines in July.