It's been a slow recovery for restaurants since the recession. Average profit margins are slim, ranging from three to five percent. Recent growth in the industry has come mainly from what's known as off-premises sales -- food going from their door to yours.
"When one looks at all restaurant industry traffic today, three-quarters of that traffic is off premises," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association's Research and Knowledge Group.
If you're craving a Chili's Southwestern BLT or Santa Fe chicken quesadillas, the restaurant chain now has hundreds of locations across the country that will bring that meal directly to you.
Riehle says takeout and delivery is growing mostly because consumers have more money to spend on meals. And they're busy.
"So there really is a confluence of events in that consumers have a heightened demand for convenience," he says.
The drive-thru doesn't quite cut it anymore. Burger King, for example, is expanding delivery service. Company officials say smartphones have completely changed the notion of "having it your way."
Burger King has a $10 minimum for delivery. Chili's minimum? $150.
That's because people usually skip high-profit items like soft drinks and alcohol. But the company is making up for it, says Edithann Ramey vice president of brand marketing for Chili's.
"So it's the alcohol we miss, but again, we're making it up because it's, I mean these orders are much larger than even the $150 minimum, so it still becomes a nice sales jack," she says.
Still, so many things can go wrong
"You may drive 20 minutes before you get to the house, and that food's just been sitting for 20 minutes," says Todd Barrios, who teaches hospitality management at Stephen F. Austin State University and previously worked in restaurant management.
For one thing, he says, delivery drivers need more insurance. And then there's the issue of food quality.
"The freshness and heat may not be there as it is if you were to go to that place in a sit-down environment."
Barrios says all it takes is one bad experience with a restaurant, and customers can be turned off for good.
The holiday season that’s nearly upon us isn’t just make-or-break time for retailers. It’s high season for charities that rely on donations. Partly, yes, because people are thinking about those end-of-the-year tax deductions. But the Thanksgiving spirit in particular can be a recruiting tool for the rest of the year.
In a warehouse at the Maryland Food Bank, forklifts zip around moving millions of pounds of donated food. It’s not just stuffing and potatoes that pour in this time of year. CEO Deborah Flateman says 60 percent of cash donations come in between September and December. The food bank has to turn away volunteers.
“The volunteers who are coming in and doing work in the food bank today probably made that appointment and that commitment in July,” she says. “That’s how popular this time of year is.”
The challenge is keeping those people involved after the holidays, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“Smart nonprofits use the interest from volunteers who come and serve at the food kitchen and say ‘maybe we can get you more involved in other kinds of ways,’” she says.
And people who volunteer, Palmer says, are more likely to give money, too.
“Sometimes the introduction is made initially during this time of year, when people do step out and seek opportunities for helping,” says Flateman, with the Maryland Food Bank. “We start building relationships that way.”
When you hear someone talking about an IP address, do your eyes glaze over? Did you even know IP can stand for something other than intellectual property? Sounds like you need a Techsplainer, Marketplace Tech's new segment where we answer your tech questions.
Today, we're talking about IP -- or internet protocol -- addresses. If you have a connection to the internet, you have one. But do you know what IP addresses are, and how they work? Harvard University's Jonathan Zittrain answers these questions and more for host Ben Johnson. Click on the audio player above to hear Zittrain's techsplanation of IP addresses, and hear why internet providers don't have exclusive content limited to their networks.
Do you have a question you would like answered on the Techsplainer? Leave it in the comment section below or tweet us @MarketplaceTech.
If you're among the millions of Americans heading "over the river, and through the wood" to a loved one's home for the holiday, there could be rain, snow and sleet in your path.