Consumer spending and visits are ahead of last year and flat or below pre-pandemic levels

Chicago, August 9, 2021 — The second quarter of this year reflects a period during which state and local governments lifted pandemic restrictions, restaurants reopened, people got vaccinated, and consumers used restaurants more than they did throughout the pandemic, reports The NPD Group. Consumer spending at restaurants was up +32% in the April-May-June 2021 quarter compared to the same quarter last year, and for a pre-pandemic view, flat compared to the same quarter in 2019. Restaurant visits, dining in or off-premises, increased by +22% in the quarter compared to the same quarter last year and were down -7% compared to the second quarter of 2019, according to NPD’s daily tracking of the U.S. foodservice industry.

Quick service restaurants (QSRs), representing 81% of restaurant visits in the U.S., realized a gain of +15% in visits in the second quarter compared to a year ago and a -5% decline compared to the second quarter of 2019. Throughout the pandemic, QSR restaurants, particularly chains, benefitted from well-established off-premises services, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery. During the second quarter in 2020, which covered the height of the pandemic lockdowns and restaurant dine-in restrictions, QSR off-premises orders increased by +9% over the same quarter in 2019, driven by solid growth in drive-thru and delivery orders. In this year’s second quarter, off-premises grew by +5% compared to a year ago, driven by gains in carry-out and delivery orders.   

With most of their business reliant on dine-in visits, full service restaurants (FSR) bore the brunt of the COVID dine-in restrictions. At the start of the second quarter this year, more areas of the country eased or lifted dine-in restrictions, and by the end of June, most states reopened. Total FSR visits, dine-in and off-premises, increased by +60% in the second quarter over a year ago and were down -17% compared to second quarter 2019. Dine-in, or on-premises, visits to FSRs increased by +214% in the quarter compared to a year ago when they declined by -80%. Despite the gains, FSR dine-in visits are down

-37% from the second quarter of 2019. With dining rooms opening in the quarter, off-premises FSR visits were down -9% compared to an +83% gain in the same quarter in 2020. 

“The U.S. restaurant recovery is underway, but it will take time for it to return to pre-pandemic levels fully,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.  “Commercial restaurants overall remain below 2019 traffic levels. The QSR segment, ideally suited to today’s new consumer realities, is performing very near pre-pandemic traffic levels with dollar volumes well ahead of that pace. On the other hand, FSRs still face headwinds such as dining room capacity restrictions in some places. Even where restrictions are minimal, labor shortages may keep operators from realizing their full operational capacity.”



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