Applebee's, the largest casual dining brand in the United States, with more than 1,500 restaurants, has hailed the success of its "kerbside to go" service.

The company, which reported a rise in like-for-like sales for the first quarter of 3.3%, said its To Go programme has been the fastest-growing part of its business since it began standardising the offer more than a year ago.

It said it had perfected the kerbside-pickup element of its takeout programme and planned to roll that out to more than half of its system by the end of the financial year. Kerbside pickup is currently offered at about 200 of the 372 Applebee's-owned branches of the chain.

Applebee's said the To Go programme's contribution to overall sales grew to 6.8% for the first quarter, up from 4.5% a year ago. More than 80% of To Go sales are incremental purchases, suggesting that cannibalisation of dining-room sales is minimal. The company's chief financial officer, Steven Lumpkin, said: "This is a separate dining occasion for the guest. It's a different need state."

Other big American casual dining chains, such as Outback Steakhouse and Chili's Grill & Bar, have also rolled out takeaway programmes across their stores. Industry analysts say this is a major evolutionary step for casual dining, which taps a lucrative customer need. Robert Derrington, restaurant analyst at Morgan Keegan & Co, said: "Convenience is top of mind. If you don't keep up with the Joneses, you get left in the dust."

Applebee's reported a 21% increase in net income to $24.6m for the quarter ended March 30, compared the same period last year, as revenue rose 19% to $238.2m.