KANSAS CITY — Has the foodservice industry been irreversibly changed by the COVID-19 pandemic? The trendlines suggest that consumer behavior has shifted away from dining inside and more toward carry-out, drive-thru and delivery even as mask mandates and other restrictions fade.

An NPD Group/CREST survey sponsored by the National Restaurant Association indicated that on-premises dining accounted for only 19% of restaurant traffic in November 2021, down 20 points from 39% in February 2020. Instead, four out of five restaurant visits involve off-premises visits (81%) with drive-thru garnering 42% restaurant traffic, followed by 30% for carry-out and 9% for delivery.

That’s a significant shift for restaurants, which had nearly $800 billion of sales in 2021.

“It’s very important to remember that 2022 will definitely be another year of transition for the restaurant industry,” noted Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the association, speaking at the US Department of Agriculture Outlook Forum and reported by BakingBusiness.com in February.

In addition, other headwinds such as supply chain shortages and inflation are affecting the foodservice industry, which finds itself in a delicate balance of maintaining margins against the backdrop of skyrocketing costs of both ingredients and labor. Bakeries, however, are well positioned to ride the rebound of the foodservice industry because they offer so many convenient food options such as buns and rolls that serve as carriers in many meal occasions.

They also tailor nicely into the move toward on-the-go dining. Those bakeries that find innovative ways to help restaurants drive off-premises traffic even further will certainly help them in the short run until leisure and business travel gains additional traction and drives foodservice sales.