Chipotle’s Digital Sales Leap A Harbinger Of QSR’s Great (Sales) Shift

The great digital shift in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) space shows no signs of stopping.

To that end, Bloomberg reported that Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Brian Niccol estimated the firm’s digital sales could be as much as $2.4 billion in 2020, leagues higher than the $1 billion seen in the previous year.

And in a nod to the fact that mobile and online orders are here to stay, Niccol said sales digital sales could be as much as 40 percent to 50 percent of revenues, which Bloomberg noted would be higher than the 40 percent threshold he signaled in March.

“Our digital business is going to stay around as dining room business comes back,” Niccol told Bloomberg.

The comments underscore a pivot not just in how consumers want to pay, but in the efforts companies are making to meet them there. In the latest earnings report, PYMNTS reported, Chipotle’s digital revenue was up 216 percent and accounted for nearly 61 percent of total sales in the quarter.  To get a sense of how customers prefer to get their quick caloric fix (quickly), mobile order-ahead sales were up 140 percent and home/office delivery was up 125 percent.

And in an interview with PYMNTS, Chipotle Chief Restaurant Officer Scott Boatwright said the company’s digital offerings have been delivering new customers to Chipotle.

“I would say the majority [of] the folks that came in through digital during COVID were brand-new users to our brand,” Boatwright said. “We’ve recognized that … the digital consumer remains digital and the in-restaurant consumer remains in-restaurant. There’s a little overlap — but surprisingly, they’re two very different customers.” In other words, the landscape is broadening a bit. Loyalty programs also have been seeing an uptake in users, at a recent 15 million customers.

Chipotle is hardly an outlier here. As PYMNTS reported last month, Brinker International CEO Wyman Roberts told CNBC that in terms of the brick-and-mortar/digital split, “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the mix that we ran prior to the pandemic.” Mobile order ahead will endure, and PYMNTS’ own Mobile Order-Ahead data shows that when it comes to restaurant apps, Domino’s and others showed double-digit percentage increases through the spring. Other stats show a 51 percent surge in restaurant delivery apps downloaded via the Apple App Store during the months of March and April led by McDonald’s and Uber Eats.

As to the stickiness of digital, takeout, delivery … and simply not waiting for a table: one recent PYMNTS report gauging the interest of people in going back to their old haunts found consumers who are ordering from restaurants online more often, whom we refer to as “convenience shifters,” are among the most eager to leave their homes. At 39.3 percent they are “very” or “extremely interested” compared to 36.1 percent of all U.S. consumers. But it also indicates that the convenience factor may stick. That’s because, as PYMNTS found, 24.4 percent of consumers said they’d ordered online from restaurants as of May, up resoundingly from 4.7 percent in March. The more (often) they try it, the more used to new habits consumers get — and the digital shift, or a hybrid once a vaccine arrives, will continue to transform QSRs.

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