Last year was a whirlwind of pandemic-related events. By the end of the year, most of Europe was dealing with the global impact of the new COVID-19 variant, omicron. And despite the rapid rise of omicron, governments across Europe were inconsistent in their restrictions on the restaurant business. Some continued to ease restrictions while others increased their guidance, which ended up weakening consumer confidence and throwing our industry into turmoil.

Across all six European countries NPD tracks for foodservice (Germany, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Russia), a large part of the working population has not yet returned to the traditional workplace. It’s likely that many will not return after the pandemic. In the U.K. only about 70% of employees were back at their offices or factories at the end of the summer. Across the other countries, between 15% and 25% were working from home or other locations. The omicron wave, with its increase in restrictions, increased the amount of remote work in western Europe.

I was initially happy to report that September 2021 consumer spending for these six markets decreased by just 9% when compared to pre-pandemic September 2019. September was also the month with the least negative development since the pandemic hit the market in March 2020. However, my joy was short-lived after seeing that from October 2021 to the end of the year, declines deepened again. December 2021 consumer spend in foodservice was 14% below December 2019. Concerns about the omicron variant, reduced workplace mobility, and the cancellation of many seasonal company events all turned the market down by the end of the year.

The good news is that, when compared to 2020, the six European countries combined showed a significant recovery, with spend growing by 19% altogether, while visits grew 15%, and eater cheques increased 3%.  However, comparing against 2019, the industry in 2021 remained far away from the levels it came from. Against the last year prior to the pandemic, consumer spend was down by more than a quarter (down 26%, or an absolute decline of €82 billion). Visit counts dropped by 29% between 2019 and 2021, and the eater cheque grew 4% during the same period, helping to counteracting visit declines a bit.

For the months to come, assuming the pandemic moderates, it is expected restrictions again will be eased. If that is the case, we anticipate 2022 will see most markets approach, but not necessarily exceed, 2019 levels. We will closely watch when and how strongly consumers’ mobility returns across Europe. A key factor in the European foodservice market’s continued recovery will be how soon more workers return to their traditional workplaces in each country.