Major Restaurant Chains Limit Delivery Hours As They Re-focus on Dine-in Customers

Despite delivery becoming "the new normal," sit-down staples like Applebee's, IHOP, and The Cheesecake Factory are putting a hold on the service during peak hours.

Thanks to online ordering apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub, the delivery and takeout business was already on the rise even before COVID-19 turned these options into "the new normal." But as restaurants continue to see more customers dining in, many are realizing the old normal may be more sustainable.

A laundry list of major dine-in restaurant groups – Darden, Dine Brands, First Watch, and Cheesecake Factory – have all taken to limiting their off-premise dining options like delivery and pickup during busy hours, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A food delivery bag waits on a front porch
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"In that trade-off, we are always going to make sure that we're serving the guests that are physically in front of us, because that experience has got to be right," John Peyton, Dine Brands chief executive, was quoted as saying. Specifically, he said Applebee's locations have occasionally stopped taking delivery orders during the evenings while IHOP has done the same during busy weekend mornings.

The paper also pointed to comments from Darden CEO Gene Lee during the company's earnings call in September. "On the weekends, we have to throttle the off-premise business," he said. "Each restaurant can throttle differently. But on average, I'll give you an idea is that we only take four orders to go every 15 minutes, and there are a lot more orders than that… we have excess demand."

A number of issues are forcing this decision: Financially, off-premise orders are reportedly less profitable, an even larger consideration as inflation is already hitting bottom lines. Meanwhile, attracting employees has been a struggle for restaurants across the industry, an issue that can be especially taxing when existing staff aren't prepared to juggle such a large mix of dine-in and delivery. Research firm The NPD Group found that to-go orders are still up 20 percent from before the pandemic even as more customers are dining in.

And so if you've noticed that you can't order delivery from your favorite dine-in restaurants, you're not alone: The WSJ cites research that found 15 percent of polled consumers said they weren't able to order delivery from a full-service restaurant during peak hours in recent months.

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