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Dishing on the Restaurant Slowdown

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Will dining at restaurants make a comeback?

While restaurants made a comeback in 2021, The NPD Group reports restaurant visits (in-person and online) were down 2% in January. While that may not appear to be a lot, this comes after 10 straight months of restaurant traffic gains last year. And altogether, according to NPD’s continual tracking of the U.S. foodservice industry, in-person and online restaurant visits are down 10% from January 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While January 2022 also saw a 4% increase in consumer spending, that was attributed to higher food and operational costs.

Specifically, traffic at quick-service restaurants (which attracts the most consumers and, historically NPD says, “has led the restaurant industry out of challenging times” was down 3% in January compared to last year and 7% compared to January 2020.
On a more positive note, full-service restaurant traffic was up 2% from last year but down 21% from January 2020.

Another good sign was dine-in traffic increased 40% in January (likely due to the higher vaccination rates), but that growth was still down 46% from January 2020’s pre-pandemic levels. Off-premises dining (including carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery, were down 10% in January, compared to a 22% increase in January 2021.

Advice from David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America: “No one ever said the road to recovery would be smooth and steady. Right now, we’re experiencing a dip in the road due to the omicron variant and stimulus money expiring. Looking ahead, we should expect volatility. February restaurant numbers will be compared to a rough February last year because of extreme weather. My advice is don’t get too discouraged by January or too elated if February seems great. Just stay the course because we’re on a steady path of gradual improvement.”

Restaurant worker stock photo by LightField Studios/Shutterstock

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