Chicago, April 27, 2022 — In the first quarter of 2021, the third round of stimulus payments, availability of COVID vaccines and relaxed pandemic restrictions helped increase online and physical visits to U.S. restaurants by 3% compared to the same period a year before, according to The NPD Group. The first quarter of 2022, in contrast, presented a host of headwinds, including higher food and energy costs, for restaurant consumers and restaurants. Challenged by these headwinds and compared to a 3% gain in last year’s first quarter, online and physical restaurant visits declined by 2% in the first quarter of 2022 versus a year ago and increased by 1% from the first calendar quarter of 2020 when the pandemic began. Consumer restaurant spending, which reflects higher costs opposed to increased visits, was up 4% in the quarter compared to the same quarter year ago when spending rose by 7%.
Online and physical visits to quick service restaurants (QSRs) declined by 2% in the first quarter compared to a 6% increase in traffic in the same quarter last year. Consumer spending at QSRs grew by 2% compared to the first three months of 2021, when spending increased by 14%. Full service restaurant (FSR) traffic increased by 2% compared to a year ago when visits declined by 7%. FSR spending was up 10% versus the same quarter a year ago when spending fell by 6%.
Dine-in restaurant visits increased by 38% in the first quarter compared to a 45% decline a year ago, while off-premises through carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery declined by 9% from a 24% gain in the first quarter last year. Dine-in QSR visits grew by 53% in the quarter, and off-premises declined by 8% compared to the same quarter a year ago. FSR grew on-premises traffic by 26% over a year ago when dine-in declined by 34%, and off-premises, which represents just over one-third of FSR visits, declined by 24% in the first quarter compared to a 63% increase in the same quarter a year ago.
Against traffic gains in the first quarter of 2021, first quarter 2022 visits at all restaurant dayparts were flat or declined. Morning meal and dinner traffic were flat in this year’s first quarter compared to a year ago when the dayparts increased by 4% and 2%, respectively. Lunch visits, which have been hampered by fewer employees returning to worksites, declined by 4% last quarter compared to a 1% increase in the 2021 first quarter. P.M. snack traffic declined by 2% against a 12% gain in the same quarter a year ago.
“The comparison to last year’s gains in the first quarter and several factors in the macro-environment, including higher food and energy prices, contributed to the first quarter’s softness,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “With the first quarter behind us, I’m optimistic that seasonal demand and the improving on-premises trends can help get the restaurant industry’s recovery back on track.”