Surging Gas Prices May Hurt Restaurants’ Drive-Thru Sales

Surging Gas Prices May Hurt Restaurants’ Drive-Thru Sales

Drive-thru orders, which have been a rare bright spot for restaurants throughout the pandemic, are looking a lot less appealing to diners as gasoline prices surge past $4 per gallon. 

The recent rise in prices is likely to change driving habits and lifestyles, according to a study from auto club AAA. This represents a new challenge for the dining industry, which is already struggling with surging food and labor expenses. 

“Consumers are already making choices about how to not get into the car as often and not to expend that gas. I think that does have an impact on drive-thru,” said Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult. “If consumers are trying to consolidate the number of times they leave the home, even just to run errands, that could lead to less occasions to swing by a restaurant.”

Some consumers might turn to frozen meals and grocery stores stand to gain lost restaurant sales, Moquin said. Sit-down restaurants could also be hurt, she added. 

On Wednesday daily average gas prices jumped to nearly $4.32 a gallon in the U.S., according to the American Automobile Association. That’s more than 50% higher than a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. Increases have sharpened rapidly in 2022 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a U.S. ban of imports of Russian fossil fuels. 

McDonald’s Corp. and Starbucks Corp. have both highlighted drive-thrus as important drivers of sales in recent quarters. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has said it’s working to add more locations with drive thrus due to their success. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.