More consumers order breakfast online, even as fast-food chains see overall segment sales fall

Key Points
  • Online spending for fast-food chains' breakfast items nearly doubled between the weeks of March 16 and April 13, according to data from Edison Trends.
  • McDonald's has seen the biggest relative gain in online breakfast spending, although the pandemic has put pressure on its overall breakfast business.
  • As states allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms, some chains are looking to jolt breakfast sales with new promotions and menu items.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many consumers' typical breakfast routines, causing many fast-food chains to lose out on early morning sales as their usual customers choose to eat cereal at home instead.

But some consumers are forming new routines and ordering their breakfasts online, through the likes of DoorDash and Uber Eats.

Between the weeks of March 16 and April 13, consumers nearly doubled their spending on fast-food breakfast items ordered through third-party delivery services, according to Edison Trends, which studies anonymized and aggregated e-receipts from millions of U.S. consumers. Consumers' online spending for fast-food breakfast meals peaked the week of May 11 and has since fallen slightly. 

Edison Trends found that consumers are spending far more on breakfast orders from McDonald's than any of its fast-food rivals. The burger chain has long been a dominant force in breakfast, which accounted for about a quarter of its U.S. sales before the pandemic.

Still, the outbreak has upended McDonald's overall breakfast business. In late March, McDonald's pulled all-day breakfast from menus to keep its operations running smoothly. CFO Kevin Ozan said that the daypart was the biggest drag to U.S. same-store sales in May.

Dunkin' and Starbucks in mid-April saw upticks in their online breakfast businesses that continued growing through May. Starbucks' pastries, which are not listed on its breakfast menu, were not included in Edison Trends' data.

Yum Brands' Taco Bell and Restaurant Brands International's Burger King saw more modest lifts to online sales for breakfast items. Many Taco Bell franchisees decided to open their locations later in the day due to the pandemic, which effectively removes breakfast from their menu. 

But the pandemic has not led all fast-food chains to see more breakfast orders from delivery apps. Wendy's saw its biggest spike in online breakfast spending this year during the week of March 2, when it formally launched its breakfast menu nationwide. A promotion for a free Breakfast Baconator appeared to lift breakfast orders in the week of April 13, although online spending fell short of the launch week.

As states allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms, some chains are looking to jolt breakfast sales with new promotions and menu items. Burger King and Starbucks are adding Impossible Foods' meatless sausage to their early morning options, while Panera Bread is offering free coffee subscriptions for the rest of the summer.

Meatless mania heats up as Starbucks debuts Impossible breakfast sandwich