What A Difference A Year Makes as U.S. Restaurant Chain Customer Transactions Begin to Recover

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With the lifting of COVID-19 restaurant restrictions and more consumers vaccinated, customer transactions at major U.S. restaurant chains in March were up +32% compared to the steep declines year ago, although still down -6% compared to two years ago, March 2019, according to The NPD Group.

“There is now optimism on the part of the American consumer, which helps to unleash pent-up demand for dining out,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “

In mid-March 2020, U.S. governing authorities, to get the COVID-19 global pandemic under control, restricted on-premises dining at roughly 70% of all U.S. restaurants, a historically defining moment for the industry. By the last week of March 2020, customer transactions at major restaurant chains had fallen by -43% compared to year-ago and by -77% at full service chains, which were most impacted by the dine-in restrictions. In March 2021, with the lifting of restrictions and more consumers vaccinated, customer transactions at major restaurant chains were up +32% compared to the steep declines year ago, although still down -6% compared to two years ago, March 2019. Major chain transactions at full service restaurants were up +210% this March compared to a year ago, or down -25% compared to two years ago, according to NPD’s CREST® Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 75 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53% of the commercial restaurant traffic in the U.S.

Quick service restaurant chains, many of which had well-developed off-premises services, like drive-thru and carry-out prior to the pandemic, have fared better than full service restaurants this past year. Customer transactions at quick service restaurant chains declined -40% by the end of March 2020 compared to same period year ago. In March 2021, QSR transactions were up +29% compared to a year ago and down -5% compared to March 2019, NPD reports.

“There is now optimism on the part of the American consumer, which helps to unleash pent-up demand for dining out,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.“Although transactions are still down compared to pre-pandemic times, there is improvement and a signal that we’re headed in the right direction on the road to recovery.”

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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