Dine-In Traffic Remains A Headwind for U.S Restaurant Industry Recovery

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While U.S. restaurant visits continue to improve overall, dine-in or on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels, reports The NPD Group.

"The industry's labor challenges and consumer reluctance to dine-in may keep restaurants, particularly FSR, at limited capacity and streamlined menus for the near future," says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor

The U.S. restaurant industry continues to recover from last year's steep declines, although not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Total online and physical visits to restaurants were up 5% in the year ending September compared to the same period last year, and down 6% from September 2019. While restaurant visits continue to improve overall, dine-in or on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels, reports The NPD Group.

Dine-in visits to restaurants were down 48% in the 12 months ending September 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic level in the year ending September 2019. Off-premises orders, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery, were up 20% versus two years ago September. Year-over-year, dine-in visits declined by 10% in the 12 months ending September compared to a year ago, and off-premises grew by 10% in the period, according to NPD's daily tracking of the U.S. foodservice industry.

Full-service restaurants (FSRs), which rely heavily on dine-in customers, have struggled the most of all restaurant segments during the pandemic. Visits to FSRs in the year ending September 2021 increased by 7% over a 23% decline a year ago. FSR traffic this September was 17% below the pre-pandemic level based on the 12 months ending September 2019. Before the pandemic, FSR on-premises visits represented 80% of the segment's total traffic, with the remaining share being off-premises. For year ending September 2021, dine-in visits represented 56% of FSR traffic, and off-premises represented 44% of orders or visits.

Quick service restaurants (QSRs) are not as reliant on dine-in visits as FSRs, and most, particularly chains, already had well-developed off-premises operations when the pandemic began. However, QSRs have lost dine-in visits too. Before the pandemic, dine-in visits represented 28% of total QSR visits, and in the year ending September 2021, dine-in represented 14% of traffic share. On-premises visits to QSRs are 52% below pre-pandemic levels and off-premises is 16% above pre-pandemic levels. Visits to QSRs increased by 4% overall in the year ending September 2021 compared to a year ago, declining 4% versus the same period ending September 2019.

"The real headwind for the U.S. foodservice industry remains on-premises occasions," says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. "The industry's labor challenges and consumer reluctance to dine-in may keep restaurants, particularly FSR, at limited capacity and streamlined menus for the near future."

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About The NPD Group
NPD offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help our clients grow their businesses in a changing world. Over 2,000 companies worldwide rely on us to help them measure, predict, and improve performance across all channels, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and B2B. We have services in 19 countries worldwide, with operations spanning the Americas, Europe, and APAC. Practice areas include apparel, appliances, automotive, beauty, books, B2B technology, consumer technology, e-commerce, fashion accessories, food consumption, foodservice, footwear, home, home improvement, juvenile products, media entertainment, mobile, office supplies, retail, sports, toys, and video games. For more information, visit npd.com. Follow us on Twitter: @npdgroup.

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