How Remote Work Is Changing the Restaurant Industry

Remote work boomed during the pandemic, and it's had a diverse range of effects on the economy.

The restaurant industry has been affected in a number of ways, including the surge in demand for digital ordering and delivery, which has also made third-party apps like DoorDash (NYSE: DASH) even more vital. At the same time remote work has favored restaurant chains with drive-thrus, a strong digital infrastructure, and those located near where people live as opposed to chains in downtown locations or travel destinations.

In this Fool Live segment recorded July 2, contributors Jeremy Bowman and Jon Quast, and bureau chief Corinne Cardina discuss the many implications of remote work's rise on the restaurant industry.

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Corinne Cardina: Yeah, another, I guess it would be a headwind for the restaurant sector is remote work. In a lot of ways, people are going back to work. Maybe you see that business lunch hour pick back up, but there are plenty of people remote working that it's here to stay. A lot of companies have fully pivoted. Jon, what can you tell us about what categories are really going to be hurt by the trend of remote work sticking around?

Jon Quast: Yeah. One of the things that I think that we can tease out of Darden's results. Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI), that is Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse. What's the other big one? Escapes me at the moment, but any case, they have a whole portfolio of restaurants that they operate. One of them is Capital Grille, and this is in their fine dining category. When you look at where Capital Grille is located, it's in a lot of big cities and downtowns and those comparable sales are still very much down. That was the worst-performing part of Darden's business in 2020. When you think about when people are using this restaurant, it's oftentimes as a business lunch. You go to the office, you grab lunch with coworkers at a place like this. That is still struggling very much. Fortunately for Darden, they're not a pure-play on this, so it gets absorbed into their overall business results. A company that was public a few years ago, named Del Frisco's, they were more of a pure-play. I would imagine that they are having a very rough time as remote work is. At least here in a hybrid fashion, it seems like some of us are going back to the office, but maybe not as much as we were pre-pandemic.

Cardina: Yeah, definitely. That'll be one to keep an eye on. Definitely not seeing that immediate bounce back in the finer lunch dining type of eating. Let's briefly talk about delivery. The pandemic was a tailwind for delivery. Some of the delivery stocks are better than others. The big names DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber (NYSE: UBER) Eats, Postmates is I believe private, correct me if I'm wrong. Jeremy, is there any of these delivery stocks that you think are the most attractive today in terms of the traditional delivery stocks?

Jeremy Bowman: Sure. I think going into the pandemic, I was pretty bearish on this whole sector. I think the unit economics really looked pretty ugly in a lot of ways. They're squeezing customers on one end and then squeezing restaurants as well. Some cities even implemented a cap on commissions to the delivery apps during the pandemic. I think I saw San Francisco even voted to make theirs permanent. But I think what happened is the pandemic has just transformed the industry. Delivery's not going away now. I think we know that. These companies have gotten millions of people signed up to use these services over the last year. We've become habituated to them as well. Restaurants have added the infrastructure as well and they are used to doing things this way. I think the three major companies here and Postmates, you mentioned. Uber actually acquired Postmates.

Cardina: OK.

Bowman: Yeah. There's been a lot of consolidation in the industry over the years, and Grubhub is getting bought out by Just Eat Takeaway (NASDAQ: GRUB), which is a European company. I think that each company brings something different to the table. Grubhub was the early disruptor early with the online ordering interface but then got disrupted by Uber and DoorDash who had their own armies of drivers that work for them. Then, DoorDash now has a majority market share in the industry, with about 57% last I checked. I think they've been able to have so much success because they pitched themselves in suburban locations and got a lot of restaurant chains that you might not think of as being delivery-friendly like Cheesecake Factory, those casual dining places, and I think they work more with the restaurant side to build those sales. You think of Uber has a reputation for being more aggressive and just grabbing market share, I think they might have lost some restaurant customers that they otherwise would've gotten. DoorDash has a bigger idea of just being a delivery app for everything, whether it's your order from Walgreens or your supermarket or something from a hardware store. I think of these companies right now, I like DoorDash the most. That's the most interesting, and to me, it's the interesting one to watch in the space.

Cardina: Awesome. Let's talk about the side you don't think about with delivery. Who's making these apps? Jeremy has a really interesting stock that is new to me that we're going to talk about.

Bowman: Yeah. I was going to talk about this a little later as well. Olo (NYSE: OLO), they're sort of like the restaurant-facing counterpart to delivery apps. They just had their IPO in March. Olo stands for online ordering. That's basically what they do for restaurants. They were founded in 2005, but they really exploded in growth during the pandemic and in recent years as online ordering delivery is taking off. They work for the restaurants. You think of Uber and DoorDash and they stuff. They're really pitching the end customer to order through them and then they obviously have to get food from the restaurants, but they're more customer-facing. Olo is also interesting. It's really a tech stock. They use the SaaS model, software-as-a-service, which has been a great model for a lot of the cloud stocks we've seen recently. I think they're maybe a better option than DoorDash because restaurants want to work with them. Restaurants are hiring them directly as opposed to there's a lot of tension with the DoorDashes and the Uber Eats of the world. I think maybe Olo is a better place to look.

Corinne Cardina has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Jeremy Bowman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Jon Quast has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Olo Inc. The Motley Fool recommends Just Eat N.V. and Uber Technologies. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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