DoorDash (NYSE:DASH) is coming off a strong year in 2020. Folks who were hesitant to leave their homes while a deadly pandemic was in full swing chose to order food for delivery more often. As a result, activity on DoorDash's platform surged. 

The last-mile delivery service company is set to report first-quarter earnings on Thursday, May 13. This will be only DoorDash's second earnings release since the company went public in early December 2020.

What will be front and center in investors' minds is how consumer ordering behavior is changing as the pandemic wanes. Restrictions are easing on restaurants in nearly all states in the U.S., allowing more people to dine in. So when DoorDash reports earnings, investors interested in the stock will want to know how the marketplace gross order value (MGOV) fared this past quarter.

A man delivering a bag of goods to a person.

Image source: Getty Images.

Will consumers continue ordering food for delivery? 

Marketplace gross order value is the total dollar value of orders placed on DoorDash's platform. From this figure, DoorDash takes a percentage (Take Rate), which counts as its revenue. The rest goes to restaurants, drivers, and other retailers. The MGOV will give valuable insight into how and/or whether consumers changed ordering behavior during the quarter. 

In the fourth quarter, DoorDash reported MGOV of $8.2 billion, up a whopping 226% from the year prior. The company is guiding investors to look for MGOV of between $8.6 billion and $9.1 billion in the first quarter. Given the successful rollout of the vaccine in the U.S., it would not be surprising if actual results come in toward the lower end of that range.

Still, DoorDash's guidance on MGOV for all of 2021 is between $30 billion and $33 billion, which would be a 27.5% increase at the midpoint from the $24.7 billion in MGOV for 2020. So, despite the rollout of vaccines in 2021, and folks returning closer to pre-pandemic eating patterns, DoorDash expects robust order growth from the elevated levels in 2020 -- a rosy outlook, to be sure.

That's why when the company reports first-quarter earnings on Thursday, the MGOV is what investors will want to analyze. In addition, this next report will set the stage for the rest of the year in terms of customer changes in eating habits.

What this could mean for investors

Analysts on Wall Street expect DoorDash to report revenue of $993 million and a loss per share of $0.26. Share prices are down almost 13% year to date, partly because investors anticipate less enthusiasm from consumers as restaurants open for seating inside.

In the short run, DoorDash may experience volatility from the change in consumer eating behavior. However, over the longer run, DoorDash can add delivery of more products besides meals. For instance, it recently signed a deal with Rite Aid to offer its more than 24,000 products for same-day delivery. As it adds categories of products for delivery, it can continue to grow MGOV for several years.

Still, the stock is not cheap -- it's trading at a forward price-to-sales ratio of 10.84. Investors interested in starting a position in DoorDash would be prudent to wait and observe how changing consumer eating behavior affects MGOV for a quarter or two.  

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.