A waitress is hanging over a bag of food to a girl sitting inside her car in the driver's seat. — Photo by TechCrunch.com

The concept of buy-online-and-pick-up-in-store (also known as “BOPS”) is not new. The pandemic just pushed more restaurants and consumers to use mobile ordering for curbside pickup services.

Curbside pickup is good for business

When COVID hit, many restaurants might have used curbside pickup simply to cover the loss from their dine-in services. It turned out that restaurants offering curbside pickup during the pandemic fared better than those without such a service.

It did not take long for restaurant chains to realize the benefits of curbside pickup. Panera Bread, Burger King, Shake Shack, and Taco Bells are among the first chains that rolled out new store design plans to embrace curbside pickup. Chipotle even introduced a digital-only restaurant that only offered delivery and curbside pickup services without a dining area. Using Chipotle’s digital-only restaurant as an example, the owners can:

  • Open the business in a less premium retail location with a lower startup cost.
  • Run the business with less space, lowering rent and maintenance expenses.
  • Prepare more servings for more customers in the kitchen, whereas in a dine-in restaurant, the kitchen staff usually cooks the food according to the time needed for those sit-down customers to enjoy the dining experience.
  • Hire no or fewer service staff to cut labor costs.
  • Pay no additional handling or transportation fees, even better than delivery orders.

Consumers also want curbside pickup

At first, many consumers might feel they were “forced” to try curbside pickup or delivery service to minimize human contact with the service staff. Soon, many had “fallen in love” with the convenience of such services. According to a McKinsey report, 40% of US consumers had tried a new shopping method (by the summer of 2020) since COVID hit, including curbside pickup and delivery service. Moreover, 73% of them wanted to continue using those services even after the pandemic.

Restaurants should make plans for (permanent) curbside pickup

It becomes clear that curbside pickup is good for restaurants. Most of all, consumers want to continue using it. There is no reason not to embrace curbside pickup. To start off, restaurants must streamline such an offering with designated staff, service area, counter, and/or parking spots for to-go orders. If viable, adding more drive-thru lanes and remodeling the space with less seating could be another option. What are your suggestions?

Linchi Kwok
Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona
CAL Poly Pomona

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