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Restaurant industry continues recovery in the US, but visits remain below pre-Covid levels

US restaurant visits NCA report

CHICAGO, IL, US — Despite bad weather and the delta variant spread, consumer online and physical restaurant visits in August continued to recover from last year’s steep declines, reports The NPD Group. U.S. restaurant traffic increased by +5% over the -10% decline in August 2020 and declined by -5% compared to the pre-pandemic level in August 2019.

Larger average check sizes drove a +13% increase in dollars compared to a year ago and a +3% gain in dollars over the same month two years ago, according to NPD’s daily tracking of the U.S. restaurant industry.

“Overall, the state of the U.S. restaurant industry today reflects the steady-state of the home-centric lifestyle that has us eating more meals at home,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “This behavior pre-dates the pandemic and will continue into the foreseeable future. To meet the needs of today’s restaurant consumers, restaurant operators need to think about getting meals and snacks into the home.”

Quick service restaurant visits, representing most U.S. restaurant traffic, were down -3% in August compared to August 2019, up +2% versus last year’s same month. Visits to full service restaurants declined by -9% this August compared to the same month two years ago, and increased by +20% versus a -25% decrease in August 2020.

While restaurant visits are improved overall, dine-in or on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels. Dine-in visits were down -34% in August compared to August 2019. Off-premises orders, which gained significant ground during the pandemic, represented the majority, 73%, of all restaurant visits this August. Of off-premises services, delivery continues its meteoric growth, with orders increasing by +128% in August compared to the same month two years ago, and now represents 10% of off-premises visits.

Carry-out visits, which hold a 49% share of off-premises traffic, increased by +6% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Drive-thru visits rose by +11% in August compared to August 2019 and represented 41% of off-premises visits in the month. Although digital ordering has grown by triple-digits since the pandemic began, non-digital orders represent the bulk, 85% in August, of all restaurant orders, reports NPD.