In 2015, for the first time on record, Americans spent more money at restaurants than at grocery stores. In dense urban areas, restaurants are literally eating the urban retail budget. Food-service locations have accounted for 40 percent of all new leases in Manhattan this year, more than clothing stores, banks, and health clubs combined, according to data from the real-estate company Cushman & Wakefield. Yesterday’s Gap is becoming tomorrow gastropub.
But another turn is coming: In 2020, more than half of restaurant spending is projected to be “off premise”—not inside a restaurant. In other words, spending on deliveries, drive-throughs, and takeaway meals will soon overtake dining inside restaurants, for the first time on record. According to the investment group Cowen and Company, off-premise spending will account for as much as 80 percent of the industry’s growth in the next five years.
The fastest-growing restaurants are quick-service chains (such as McDonald’s and Starbucks) and fast-casual locations (such as Chipotle and Sweetgreen), where diners can walk in, walk out, and never touch a chair or table. But no segment of the industry is growing faster than online delivery, which now accounts for 5 to 10 percent of total restaurant business, according to industry reports.
So restaurants surpassed grocery stores only to become something quite like grocery stores: food-service establishments that sell grub for people to chew somewhere else.