Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse

This is a weekly update providing data and insights for the restaurant industry. Each update highlights the most relevant and timely workforce, financial, guest and consumer trends.

April

5.3%

Comp Sales

April

-2.7%

Comp Traffic

April

New England
Fine Dining
Pizza

April

Southwest
Quick Service
Hamburger

Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

  • The numbers reflected above have shifted from 2-year metrics to year-over-year numbers.
  • As of March 23, 2022, financial metrics have shifted from a 2-year comparison to a year-over-year comparison.

 

May 25, 2022

 

Restaurant Traffic Erosion Persists Despite Stronger Year-Over-Year Sales

 
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Data through the week ending May 15, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth remained virtually unchanged compared to the previous week and has been relatively stable since the middle of March. The industry continues to experience positive sales growth year over year, but at a much smaller rate than the double-digit growth rates seen during the first two months of the year. 
  • Despite a significant improvement in year-over-year traffic growth during the week, the industry faced its 10th consecutive week of negative traffic growth.   
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know the results of the previous calendar week each Friday. Click here for more information. 
  • Two weeks into May, the segments with the largest average check growth year over year were family dining, casual dining and fast casual. All segments continue seeing check growth much higher than the pre-pandemic norm. However, fast casual and fine dining are experiencing a slowdown in their check growth compared to April. 
  • The segments with the strongest sales growth during the week ending May 15 were fine dining, upscale casual and fast casual.  
  • The only states with negative sales growth during the week were Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana and Iowa. The best performing regions based on year-over-year sales growth were New England, the Mid-Atlantic, California and the Western region. The regions with the weakest sales growth during the week were New York-New Jersey, the Midwest, Southwest and Texas.
 

Limited-Service Hourly Wages Rising Rapidly; Large Regional Differences Exist 

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  • As of March, limited-service restaurants experienced record-high increases in hourly wages for their hourly crew. Since the staffing crisis started last Spring, restaurants (and many other businesses) ramped up operations as part of the economic reopening, only to find a shortage of available employees. Hourly wages started accelerating at an increasingly rapid pace. 
  • By March, hourly team members and shift leaders in limited-service brands were seeing year-over-year percentage increases in hourly wages in the high teens. 
  • But as with much of the workforce data throughout the last two years, there are significant regional differences in how much wages have increased throughout the country. One of the contributing factors, in addition to the heavy market pressures, is the fact that half of the states are set to increase their minimum wage during 2022, with most of those increases happening at the beginning of the year. 
  • Some of the states that have experienced the biggest growth in median wages for shift leaders in limited-service restaurants are Nevada, Georgia, Idaho, Utah, Missouri and Virginia. 
  • States in which hourly wage growth has been much more moderate (although in most cases higher than the typical increases seen in the past) are New York, Washington, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana. The District of Columbia has experienced a low increase in its hourly wages. 

May 18, 2022

 

Traffic Growth Tumbled as Guest Check Growth Accelerates

 
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Data through the week ending May 8, 2022

 

  • Restaurant year-over-year sales growth slowed down relative to the previous week. The industry’s sales performance has clearly improved recently. The last two weeks have experienced the strongest sales growth in the last eight weeks.
  • Traffic growth took a tumble during the week. The drop in traffic growth more than doubled the decrease posted by sales compared to the previous week. A factor behind the traffic slowdown may be a rapid acceleration in guest check in some of the largest segments in the industry. The pace at which average check has increased year over year accelerated in casual dining, quick service and family dining.
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know the results of the previous calendar week each Friday. Click here for more information.
  • Most industry segments continue to experience positive traffic growth year over year. Fine dining and upscale casual posted the strongest traffic growth during the week. However, year-over-year guest counts dropped in quick service and casual dining.
  • From a sales perspective, Illinois and New York were the only states that suffered negative growth during the week. The best performing regions based on sales growth were New England, the Mid-Atlantic and California. The regions with the softest sales growth were Texas, the Southwest and New York-New Jersey. The latter was the only region that experienced negative sales growth during the week.
 
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  • Restaurants have been facing plenty of challenges over the last two years. Since last year, staffing has been an issue as employee turnover continues to skyrocket and post record high values. But how much have these challenges affected the guest perception of the service experience and how does it compare to the pre-pandemic period?
  • Focusing on restaurant reviews captured by Google reveals different results depending on industry segment based on service style.
  • Service net sentiment for full-service brands remained essentially unchanged in Q1 of 2022 compared to guest sentiment in Q1 of 2019 despite the many challenges encountered by the industry today.
  • For limited-service restaurants, the situation is far more negative. First, net sentiment based on service mentions was negative during Q1 2022, meaning there was a larger percentage of guests complaining about a negative service experience than there were guests sharing a positive one. Second, net sentiment dropped drastically compared to Q1 2019. Service net sentiment experienced a double-digit percentage drop during the period.

 

 

May 11, 2022

 

Restaurant Guest Counts Declining Year Over Year

 
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Data through the week ending May 1, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales and traffic growth improved for the second consecutive week, both posting the best results since the first half of March. 
  • Despite the improvements in traffic growth, the industry has experienced nine consecutive weeks of negative same-store traffic growth year over year. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know the results of the previous calendar week on Friday. Click here for more information. 
  • Average check continues growing at a rapid pace and is a concern for guests who are contending with record-high inflation levels. The industry segments that experienced the largest year-over-year increase in average check during April were family dining, fast casual and fine dining. 
  • The breakfast daypart had the fastest comeback in sales growth year over year during April, outpacing late-night in year-over-year sales growth for the first time since March of 2021. 
  • All regions of the country experienced positive sales growth during April. The top performing regions based on sales growth were New England, California and the Mid-Atlantic. The regions with the weakest sales growth during the month were the Southwest, Texas and the Southeast. 

Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

 

Questions about the Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse? Contact marketing@blackboxintelligence.com

  • The numbers reflected above have also shifted from a 2-year metrics to year-over-year numbers.
  • As of March 23, 2022, financial metrics have shifted from a 2-year comparison to a year-over-year comparison.

 

 

April 28, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales Stable; Off-Premise Sales Growth Negative 

 
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Data through the week ending April 17, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth has remained stable in the last four weeks, with the industry posting low single-digit growth. 
  • Traffic growth was negative for the last six consecutive weeks. Both sales and traffic year-over-year growth declined compared to the previous week, but the drop was over twice as large for traffic than it was for sales growth. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • The best performing segments from a sales growth perspective were fine dining, upscale casual and family dining. The segments with the softest year-over-year growth are quick service and fast casual. These segments performed much better throughout the pandemic and thus are lapping over harder comparisons. 
  • The share of off-premise sales as a percentage of total restaurant sales remains elevated for both limited-service and full-service restaurants compared to the pre-Covid period. However, the rate at which off-premise sales have been growing year over year has slowed considerably. Off-premise sales growth is now down double digits for both limited and full-service brands. 
  • Restaurants in eighteen states posted negative sales growth during the week. The best performing regions based on year-over-year sales growth were California, New England, Florida and the Mid-Atlantic. The regions with the softest sales growth during the week were the Southwest, Texas, the Southeast and Mountain Plains. 

 

Limited-Service Restaurants: Guest Sentiment Improved in Q1 Driven by Service and Ambiance 

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  • The restaurant industry continues to face steep staffing challenges. A key factor behind the staffing shortages has been employee turnover rates at record-high levels for the industry.
  • There are some significant regional differences in employee turnover rates depending on which area of the country a restaurant operates. For limited-service hourly employees, the gap in turnover between the state with the highest rate (Alabama) and the state with the lowest turnover (New York), is a remarkable 110 percentage points. For full-service restaurants, the gap in turnover between the state with the highest turnover (Mississippi) and the one with the lowest (Connecticut) is 122 percentage points.
  • The states with the highest turnover rates tend to be in the southeastern quadrant of the country.
    The states with the highest limited-service hourly employee turnover rates are Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia.
  • For full-service restaurants, the states with the highest hourly employee turnover rates are Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

 

 

April 20, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Slows as Industry Faces Fourth Week of Negative Traffic Growth    

 
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Data through the week ending April 10, 2022

 

  • Sales growth softened the week ending April 10th compared to the previous week. Restaurants are still growing their sales compared to last year, but the rate of growth has slowed down considerably over the last four weeks. 
  • Traffic posted its fifth consecutive week of negative year-over-year growth and remains the biggest challenge for restaurants. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • Fine dining, upscale casual and family dining were the only three industry segments able to achieve positive year-over-year traffic growth during the week. However, this is due to those segments being more negatively impacted by Covid during this period a year ago. Meanwhile, the segment with the softest traffic growth was quick service, which recovered much quicker and stronger from the pandemic. 
  • Rising prices continue to be a significant concern for restaurants, as guests struggle with historically high inflation rates. The segments with the largest increases in guest check during the week were fine dining, fast casual and family dining. Average check increased the least in upscale casual and quick service. 
  • Forty states were able to post positive sales growth during the week. The best performing regions based on sales growth were California, New England, Mid-Atlantic and Florida. The regions with weakest sales growth were the Southwest, New York-New Jersey, the Southeast and Texas. Only the Southwest experienced negative sales growth. 

 

Limited-Service Restaurants: Guest Sentiment Improved in Q1 Driven by Service and Ambiance 

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  • Overall, net sentiment was up for both full- and limited-service restaurant brands during Q1 compared to Q4 of 2021. This was partly due to a softening in restaurant traffic quarter over quarter, making it somewhat easier to meet guest expectations. 
  • In limited-service restaurants, service and ambiance were the top drivers for improvement in guest sentiment. 
  • Regarding service guest sentiment, “friendly” and “nice” were trending in reviews, along with more positive mentions of “quick” and “great experience.”  For full-service restaurants, there were fewer negative mentions around “wait times/minutes” compared to Q4 of last year. 
  • Ambiance remains closely associated with cleanliness in restaurants, as it’s been over the last couple of years. The improvement in ambiance was driven by more positive mentions of “clean” and fewer negative mentions of “dirty” tables, bathrooms and floors.  

April 13, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Slows as Industry Faces Fourth Week of Negative Traffic Growth   

 
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Data through the week ending April 3, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth improved during the week and remains positive but has slowed down to single-digit growth for the last three weeks after more than a year of stronger increases due to the pandemic. 
  • The slowdown is reflected in guest counts as well. The industry has now experienced four consecutive weeks of negative same-store traffic growth. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • The segments with the strongest traffic growth during March were fine dining, upscale casual and family dining. The segments with the weakest traffic growth were quick service and fast casual. Both suffered from negative traffic growth during the month. 
  • All segments achieved positive sales growth in March from a daypart perspective. The strongest sales growth came from breakfast and late-night, while the softest dayparts based on sales growth were mid-afternoon and dinner. 
  • Only three states experienced sales losses year over year in March: Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The best performing regions from a sales growth perspective were California, New England, Florida and the Mid-Atlantic. The regions with the weakest sales growth were the Southwest, Texas, the Southeast and New York-New Jersey. 

 

Full-Service Restaurants Improved Guest Sentiment in Q1 Driven by Food and Service

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  • With traffic easing in Q1 versus Q4 of last year, there was a noticeable positive impact on the guest experience. Overall, net sentiment was up for both full- and limited-service restaurant brands.  
  • In the case of full-service restaurants, the top drivers of the improvement in guest sentiment were service and food.  
  • Regarding service guest sentiment, there were more positive mentions in online reviews about the “experience” being “great” and “wonderful” and more positives about service being “attentive.”  There were also fewer negatives about “wait” or “minutes,” which was a problem commonly encountered during the previous quarter as speed of service was constantly highlighted as an issue. 
  • For food, there were improvements in quality, preparation, and menu sentiment versus Q4 of 2021.  “Delicious,” “cooked perfectly” and “fresh” all trended higher in reviews. Mentions shifted from negatives around menus being “limited” to more positive mentions of “lunch menus,” “happy hour menu” and “great menu selections/options/choices.” 

 

 

April 6, 2022

 

Restaurant Traffic Experiences Negative Growth for 3rd Consecutive Week  

 
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Data through the week ending March 27, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth improved, ending the four-week streak in which sales growth was softer than the previous week. 
  • Despite the improvement in traffic, restaurants faced their third consecutive week of negative year-over-year traffic growth, which continues to fuel concerns about a softening in sales performance ahead. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • The strongest performing segments based on year-over-year sales growth were fine dining and upscale casual. The segments with the lowest sales growth were quick service and fast casual. Both segments recovered quickly from the pandemic and therefore have experienced stronger sales growth throughout the last two years, which translates into tougher comparisons when calculating year-over-year growth. Quick service has been the only segment with negative sales growth during each of the last two weeks. 
  • All industry segments are currently experiencing positive dine-in sales growth year over year. The segments with the largest gains were fast casual, fine dining and upscale casual.  
  • Restaurants in 35 states achieved positive sales growth during the week. The regions with the strongest sales growth were California, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, and New England. Only two segments experienced negative sales growth: Southwest and Texas. 

 

Young Consumers Driving Restaurant Growth, Older Guest Spending Growth More Modest

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  • Full-service restaurant sales have yet to recapture sales lost during the pandemic due to softer spending by older guests. Spending by 25 to 44-year-olds has modestly eclipsed pre-pandemic levels, older age groups remain below.  
  • Leading the weakness is the oldest cohort, guests 65+. Their spend has had the largest improvement since the rollout of vaccines; however, it remains below all age cohorts from a spend level standpoint, as well as share of spend. Continued health risk aversion is likely the biggest contributing factor in the softness, followed by less growth in income (trailing wage growth, lower interest rates on investments) and the impact of skyrocketing inflation.   
  • On the other hand, 18 to 24-year-olds stand out, offsetting the weakness with robust spending growth. Younger guests are experiencing strong work prospects, with rapid wage hikes and increasing job openings, as well as benefiting from recent stimulus and the student loan pause. Currently, their spend is up nearly 20 percentage points since before the pandemic and represents roughly 9 percent of spend mix. 
  • Like full-service, the largest spend tailwind at limited-service restaurants is from its younger guests. The largest spend gain is from the sub 34 age cohort, while 18 to 24-year-olds lead on a percentage growth basis, up over 26 percentage points from before the pandemic. For limited-service guests 45 and above, they too have increased spend compared to pre-pandemic levels but to a lesser extent.     

 

March 30, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Growth Declined Year Over Year   

 
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Data through the week ending March 20, 2022

 

  • Restaurant industry same-store sales have been positive for 54 consecutive weeks. Nonetheless, there was a significant slowdown in the week ending March 20 suggesting a future possibility of negative sales growth. Traffic growth for restaurants was negative for the second week in a row. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • Fine dining and upscale casual were the only two segments with positive traffic growth during the week. Quick service, fast casual and casual dining had the weakest year-over-year traffic growth.  
  • Average check growth dropped for all industry segments during the week. 
  • Sales growth has been positive for all US regions from the first week of February until the week ending March 20. Five regions dipped into negative sales growth territory: the Southwest, Texas, the Midwest, Southeast and New York-New Jersey. 
  • The regions with strongest sales growth during the week were California, New England, Florida and the Mid-Atlantic. 

 

Hourly Compensation Growth Reached a Peak in November, Remains at Historically High Levels 

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  • Since Q3 of last year, restaurant wages have increased at a historically high pace in response to the deep staffing shortage that has plagued the industry. 
  • Year-over-year growth in restaurant hourly wages reached a peak in November of 2021 and has moderated since then. 
  • Median hourly wage for hourly crew in limited-service and line cooks in full-service restaurants remained at the same level between November 2021 and January 2022. 
  • Despite a slowdown in year-over-year growth in recent months, hourly wages for limited-service hourly and full-service line cooks continue to accelerate at double-digit growth rates, which is much higher than the norm for decades before the pandemic. 
  • Wage acceleration continues to be significantly greater among limited-service restaurants than for those in full-service. 

 

March 23, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Growth Declined Year Over Year   

 
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Data through the week ending March 13, 2022

 

  • Sales growth has been declining for three consecutive weeks; traffic growth has turned negative for the first time in seven weeks. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • Fine dining, upscale casual and family dining were the best performing segments. These segments were facing great challenges a year ago. Quick service and fast casual sales growth was softer. Still, all industry segments experienced positive sales growth during the week.  
  • Average check continues to grow at an unusually fast pace. The segments with the highest check growth during the week were quick service, fast casual and fine dining. The segments with the lowest check growth were upscale casual and casual dining. 
  • The only states with negative sales growth during the week were West Virginia, Arkansas, North Dakota, Alabama and Pennsylvania. 
  • The best performing regions based on year-over-year sales growth were California, Mountain Plains and Florida. The regions with the weakest sales growth during the week were the Southeast, Southwest and Texas. 

 

Superbowl Suggests Increased Restaurant Activity Around Major Sporting Events, But Guest Sentiment Dropped 

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  • To help plan for the final rounds of March Madness, it helps to look at data from the recent Superbowl to understand current consumer behavior and preferences around major sporting events. 
  • The number of guest mentions in restaurant reviews related to the Superbowl was more than double in 2022 compared to the last 2 years. However, guest sentiment was weaker than it was pre-pandemic in 2020.  
  • Casual dining has typically dominated the online review chatter, which is understandable given most sports bar concepts are classified under this segment. This year, however, fine dining and upscale dining were mentioned more often than before. Common themes in online reviews centered around great execution due to light traffic, along with mentions of sitting at the bar to watch the game.  
  • Limited-service restaurants also received some extra mentions for delivery during the game or for providing food for watch parties.   
  • Although the number of mentions was higher, overall sentiment was lower than 2020 and suggested execution issues with off-premise orders dampening sentiment. Casual dining drove most of that decline. Trending themes in online reviews included incorrect orders and orders not being ready on time. 

 

March 16, 2022

 

 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Strongest Since November 

 
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Data through the week ending March 3, 2022

 

  • Restaurants posted positive sales growth for the third consecutive week, the strongest growth since the week before Thanksgiving (excluding the week of February 20th due to Valentine’s Day shifting a week and affecting those results).  
  • Although restaurants remain far from surpassing their guest count before the pandemic hit 2 years ago, traffic growth improved more than sales compared to the previous week.  
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • For the last three weeks, the best performing segments in the industry based on sales growth were fine dining and upscale casual. These segments had the highest guest checks and put major emphasis on elevating the restaurant experience. 
  • Average checks continue growing at an unusually high rate year over year. The segments with highest check growth in the last two weeks have been quick service and fast casual. The segment with the lowest check growth was upscale casual. 
  • Breakfast was the daypart with the highest sales growth during the week, followed by mid-afternoon and dinner. Lunch and late-night continue to lag in sales. 
  • Hawaii was the only state that had negative sales growth during the week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the only other time this has happened was during the week ending November 21, 2021. 
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were Western, California, Texas and Florida. The regions with weakest sales growth were New York-New Jersey, the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England. 

 

Staffing Levels Have Not Recovered, Still Worse for Full-Service Restaurants 

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  • As of January 2022, restaurants were operating in each of their locations with fewer hourly staff than they did pre-pandemic, in 2019. Still, there are some significant differences in how this affected limited-service and full-service restaurants. 
  • Drops in staffing levels are much lower for limited-service brands, with the median brand operating its restaurants with 4.4% fewer hourly crew members per unit than in 2019. This translates into one less hourly employee per restaurant.  
  • But some of this is a shift from hourly to management employees. The median limited-service brand increased the number of managers per location by about 0.5 during the same period. This can be a result of assigning some additional managers to some of their locations or relying on a larger number of part-time managers to cover the management duties. 
  • In the case of full-service restaurants, staffing drops occur across the board, with front-of-house hourly employees affected the most. The median brand operated its locations with about 11% less front-of-house hourly employees than they did pre-Covid. 
  • In the case of back-of-house hourly employees, the reduction in staff was about 6%, while the drop in average number of managers was higher. 

 

 

March 9, 2022

 

 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Improved the Second Half of February

 
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Data through the week ending February 27, 2022

 

  • Restaurants posted their second consecutive week of positive sales growth and the strongest for the industry in the last ten weeks. However, this excludes the week ending February 20, due to a favorable calendar shift on Valentine’s Day. 
  • The industry continues to struggle with guest counts. During the week, traffic growth fell to double-digit losses, its lowest level in the last three weeks.  
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • Year-over-year growth in average guest check accelerated to its highest level since the beginning of the year. The segments with the highest check growth during the week were quick service and fast casual. 
  • The segments with the biggest gain in sales growth during the week were fine dining, upscale casual and fast casual. 
  • The regions with the strongest sales growth during the week were Western, California, Florida and the Southeast. The regions with softest sales growth were the Southwest, New York-New Jersey, the Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic. 

 

Breakfast No Longer the Leading Daypart Based On Guest Sentiment, Dinner Sentiment Down vs. Pre-Covid 

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  • All guest mentions in online reviews pertaining to specific restaurant dayparts (breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.) revealed shifts in their relative sentiment compared to the pre-pandemic period. 
  • Historically, the restaurant daypart with the highest guest net sentiment has been breakfast. However, lunch and breakfast are nearly identical as breakfast sentiment fell while lunch improved slightly. 
  • Sentiment appeared to decline as the day progressed, with lunch experiencing higher sentiment than dinner and dinner posting the lowest sentiment. Although late night is mentioned much less frequently, sentiment does improve compared to dinner, but never fully recovers to breakfast or lunch levels. 
  • For limited-service restaurants, erosion in breakfast sentiment has led to lunch and breakfast posting similar net sentiment levels. Among those mentioning dinner, sentiment over the past four quarters is down by 20 percentage points vs. 2019, and the gap is growing. Dinner net sentiment is barely positive as of Q4 2021. 
  • The story is similar for full-service restaurants. Breakfast and lunch sentiment are nearly equal as breakfast sentiment declined while lunch improved. Dinner sentiment has been stable the last four quarters but is now below pre-pandemic levels.  

 

 

March 2, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales Improve, Far From Last Year’s Peaks

 
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Data through the week ending February 20, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth jumped significantly during the week, posting the industry’s second-best sales growth rate in over two years. Valentine’s Day was included in the week ending February 20, 2022, but not in the comparable week in 2020. 
  • Despite the favorable boost due to Valentine’s Day shifting a week, traffic growth remained negative. Furthermore, traffic growth improved less than half the improvement seen in sales growth. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • Sales during the first three weeks of the month show an improvement over January’s sales growth and return the industry into positive growth territory. However, a significant slowdown from the average growth experienced between June and November of 2021 persists.   
  • All industry segments have improved their sales growth month to date compared to January. The best performing segments through the first three weeks of February are fine dining, fast casual and quick service. 
  • Through the first three weeks of February, sales growth was positive in 36 states, an improvement from the 28 states in January. 
  • The best performing regions month to date based on sales growth are the Southeast, Florida, the Western region and California. The regions with the weakest sales growth are New York-New Jersey, the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest. 

 

Full-Service Restaurants Saw Strong Execution for Valentine’s Day, Despite Many Challenges 

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  • For full-service restaurant guests that mentioned Valentine’s Day in their online reviews, net sentiment improved 6 points over last year and only modestly lower than sentiment associated with 2019’s Valentine’s Day. 
  • The gain in net sentiment vs. last year was most pronounced at fine dining and upscale dining restaurants, but casual dining also experienced an uptick. 
  • Compared to pre-pandemic levels (2019), Valentine’s Day net sentiment for fine dining and casual dining brands was higher this year. However, guest sentiment in upscale casual brands did not recover to pre-pandemic levels. 
  • Including all mentions during the days surrounding the special occasion (not just those specifically mentioning “Valentine’s Day”), service net sentiment strengthened 5 percentage points at full-service restaurants year over year, as well as above prior years, a positive sign as restaurants grapple with the ongoing challenge of turnover, staff shortages and less employee experience within their four-walls. Meanwhile, other attributes, such as food and ambiance, were largely unchanged versus prior years despite these significant challenges facing the industry today. 

 

 

February 23, 2022

 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Negative; Signs of Relative Improvement 

 
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Data through the week ending February 13, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth experienced a sharp downturn during the week, the worst for the industry since the week ending March 14, 2021 based on same-store sales growth. However, Valentine’s Day was included in the comparable week in 2020 but not in the current week, which explains part of this slump. 
  • While sales growth dropped rapidly during the week, traffic growth was able to improve. Despite the improvement, restaurant traffic remains far from recovery to its pre-pandemic levels. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • The segment with the biggest gain in sales growth compared to the previous week was quick service, followed by fast casual. These were the only segments that were able to post positive sales growth during the week. 
  • Upscale casual, fine dining and casual dining posted the biggest declines in sales growth rates. These segments typically see the biggest jump in sales on Valentine’s Day. Since Valentines Day was included in the comparable week two years ago but not the current week, sales appear to be worse.  
  • The seven states that posted positive sales growth during the week were Maine, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, Idaho, New Hampshire, and Utah. All regions of the country experienced negative sales growth. 
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were New England, Florida, the Southeast and Texas. The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic, California and the Midwest.

 

 

February 16, 2022

 

 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Negative; Signs of Relative Improvement 

 
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Data through the week ending January 23, 2022

 

  • For the fifth time in the last six weeks, restaurant sales growth fell into negative territory. Winter weather is to blame for some of that in Texas and part of the Southwest and Midwest.  
  • Although sales have undoubtedly softened since the middle of December, the last two weeks have fared a little better. 
  • Traffic continues to be a greater challenge for the industry. Traffic growth during the week was the second worst in almost a year (since the week ending February 27, 2021). The worst traffic results in the last year were posted on the week of January 23rd.  
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • When calculated on a 2-year basis, the average guest check reached a record high during the week, contributing to traffic weakness. 
  • Fine dining, upscale casual and casual dining experienced the biggest recovery in sales growth during the last two weeks compared to the first three weeks of January.  
  • Positive sales growth was only posted in 31 states during the week. 
  • Sales growth was the strongest in the Western region, Southeast, California and Florida. The Midwest, Texas, New York-New Jersey and the Southwest regions experienced the worst sales growth.  

 

Restaurant Manager Pay Increasing as Turnover Continues to Rise 

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  • While the conversation around the restaurant staffing crisis tends to focus primarily on hourly team members, the challenges include all levels of restaurant management. 
  • Turnover for restaurant managers both in limited- and full-service restaurants increased during each quarter in 2021 and reached historically prominent levels. 
  • General manager total compensation (including base salary and bonuses) has increased at an accelerated rate in recent months. Year-over-year growth in total compensation for the median general manager in a limited-service restaurant increased by 3.7 percentage points between August and November of 2021. 
  • The increase in the year-over-year growth rate for full-service general managers was lower at 2.4 percentage points, although total compensation was already growing at a much faster rate for them back in August. 
  • Even with increases in total pay, inflation is impacting employee retention, especially for managers. Given the unusually high inflation rates, gains in general manager pay have been totally erased for limited-service managers and are far less attractive for full-service managers.  

 

 

February 9, 2022

 

January Netted Losses for Restaurants, Sales Growth Turned Positive During Last Week 

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Data through the week ending January 23, 2022
  • Restaurant sales growth improved significantly during the week, returning to positive territory for the first time since the week ending December 19. Traffic growth, although still negative, also improved compared to the previous week.  
  • Despite this improvement in sales and traffic growth, restaurant performance remains much softer than it was in November and December, when the slowdown began. 
  • Sales growth was -0.9% for the industry in January, the first time restaurants experienced negative sales growth since February of 2021. 
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • During the week ending January 30, all industry segments improved sales growth compared to the previous week. Despite the improvement, sales growth remained negative for family and casual dining. The best performing segments based on sales growth during the week were fast casual, fine dining and quick service. 
  • Dine-in sales growth improved for all segments of the industry during the week, with the biggest gains happening among full-service brands. 
  • Regardless of the overall improvement in sales growth at the national level, 20 states plus the District of Columbia experienced negative sales growth during the week. The best performing regions based on sales growth were Florida, Texas, Western and California. Four regions experienced negative sales growth during the week: New York-New Jersey, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

 

Restaurant Manager Pay Increasing as Turnover Continues to Rise 

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  • While the conversation around the restaurant staffing crisis tends to focus on hourly team members, the challenges are wider and include all levels of restaurant management. 
  • Turnover for restaurant managers both in limited- and full-service restaurants increased during each of the quarters of 2021 and reached historically high levels. 
  • A variable that restaurants can use to impact employee retention is compensation, and in the case of general managers, we have seen an acceleration in the rate at which total compensation (including base salary and bonuses) has increased in recent months. Year-over-year growth in total compensation for the median general manager in a limited-service restaurant increased by 3.7 percentage points between August and November of 2021.  
  • In the case of full-service general managers, the increase in the year-over-year growth rate was lower at 2.4 percentage points, but total compensation was already growing at a much faster rate for them back in August. 
  • The increase in total pay is one piece of the puzzle when it comes to its impact on employee retention. The other important factor is inflation, which determines how far those compensation dollars can go. The problem is that given the unusually high inflation rates consumers have been facing, those gains in general manager pay have been totally erased in the case of limited-service general managers. While full-service managers are making much more than they did a year ago, once adjusted for inflation, their compensation increases are far less attractive. 

 

 

February 2, 2022

 

Commodity Pressures Contribute toward Menu Price Increases 

 

  • The index rose 6.0 percent for food away from home over the last 12 months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this was the largest increase since January 1982. 
  • Voice of the Operator: A Black Box Intelligence™ poll surveying over 100 restaurant operators revealed that 53% of restaurants plan to increase prices by 3% or more in 2022. 18% of restaurants plan to take price increases between 3 and 3.9% this year; 23% of restaurants are unsure. 
  • From supply chain issues to rising wages, restaurant operators have no shortage of hurdles to overcome. To navigate this environment you need access to relevant, quality data. Read Using Restaurant Data to Drive Revenue: A Complete Look at Industry Analytics. 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Negative for Fifth Consecutive Week, Traffic Hits New Low Since February 

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Data through the week ending January 23, 2022

 

  • The week was the fifth consecutive week with negative sales growth and the weakest for the industry since mid-March of 2021. 
  • Traffic growth declined even more than sales. This was the worst week for traffic growth since late February 2021. Record high growth in average guest check during the week contributed to traffic decline.  
  • Have you compared your sales and traffic to the market? How did your sales growth compare to other restaurants in your segment? Click here to get access to these crucial insights.  
  • Fast casual was the only segment that posted positive sales growth during the week. The second-best industry segment was quick service, followed by upscale casual and fine dining. 
  • Three weeks into January, the mid-afternoon daypart was the only one able to post positive sales growth month to date. The dayparts that saw the largest erosion in sales growth month to date compared with December were breakfast and lunch. Despite the decline in sales, breakfast held on to its position as the 2nd-best performing daypart based on sales growth for the second consecutive month. 
  • Sales growth was only positive in 18 states during the week.  
  • The only regions with positive sales growth were Florida, Mountain Plains and Texas. 
  • The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

   

 

Restaurants Having Difficulties with Fried Foods

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  • Guest sentiment for fried foods has declined since the start of the pandemic at both limited- and full-service restaurants. The greatest decline in fried food net sentiment was in limited-service. The drop in sentiment is even larger related specifically to french fries. 
  • Part of the downtick in sentiment is related to extended lengths from kitchen to consumption as consumers shifted more spend towards off-premise, whether to-go or delivery.  
  • Compared to pre-pandemic, Limited-service guests in the second half of 2021 mentioned “soggy” fries twice as often and “crispy” fries less. “Hot” and “tasty” fries were also mentioned less often.  
  • The other piece of this puzzle might be execution related to cooking oil, as prices have jumped considerably, leading to elevated levels of inflation in 2021. As a result, some restaurant operators may stretch inventory and look for alternative sources, which can change the flavor profile and quality of key fried menu offerings. 
  • Exiting 2021, common fry oil prices remain elevated, many of which experienced inflation of double their pre-pandemic levels in 2021, with Q4 2021 only providing slight relief.  

 

 

January 26, 2022

 

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Negative, Traffic New Low Since February    

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Data through the week ending January 16, 2022

 

  • The industry posted its best sales growth in the last four weeks, however, sales still did not climb into positive territory. Even with some sales improvement, traffic growth dropped to the worst levels since February of 2021. 
  • Fine dining experienced the biggest decline in traffic growth compared to the previous week, followed by casual dining and family dining. Quick service and fast casual were the only two segments able to improve traffic growth compared to last week. 
  • For the last two weeks, only limited-service segments (quick service and fast casual) achieved positive sales growth. 
  • Have you compared your sales and traffic to the market? How did your sales growth compare to other restaurants in your segment? Click here to get access to these crucial insights.  
  • A sharp downturn in dine-in sales occurred across all segments as concerns for new Covid cases continue. The biggest declines transpired in casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining.  
  • Only 30 states posted positive sales growth during the week. 
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were the Midwest, Florida, New England and the Western region. The worst performing regions were the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest and California (-2.3%).

 

Restaurants Staffing with Younger Employees

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  • The industry continues to struggle finding and retaining enough employees to staff their restaurants. As of November, restaurants were operating with fewer employees per location than they did back in 2019, with the biggest gaps in front-of-house positions in full-service. 
  • Operators have had to staff their restaurants with more inexperienced employees because of the staffing crisis. 
  • Short staffing leads to dissatisfaction of guests and employees – read Why the Restaurant Staffing Shortage Is Becoming a Bigger Issue. 
  • The percentage of all hourly employees that are 18 years old or younger increased for both limited-service and full-service restaurants. The increase was more than twice as large among limited-service brands. Given the size of these segments, particularly quick service, this shift means the industry is now employing hundreds of thousands more of these young teenagers than it did in late 2020.  
  • Additionally, historically high turnover rates meant that the average tenure of employees also decreased significantly. The average tenure for hourly employees in limited-service and full-service brands decreased by a little over two years in the 12 months between October of 2020 and 2021. The drop was the same for front-of-house and back-of-house employees in full-service brands.  

 

 

January 19, 2022

 

 

Restaurant See Smallest Sales Growth Since February    

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Data through the week ending January 9, 2022

 

  • Sales and traffic growth worsened the first week of 2022 hitting the lowest levels since late February. 
  • All industry segments saw their sales growth drop compared to their average during the first three weeks in December (before the headwinds caused by the holidays falling during the weekends). 
  • Weather may have played some part in the decline. The regions with the biggest drops in sales during the week were the Mid-Atlantic, New England and New York-New Jersey.  
  • The segments that saw the biggest declines in sales growth were upscale casual and casual dining, while the segments that were able to weather the downturn better were fast casual and quick service. 
  • How are you performing compared to the market? Is your traffic up? How big was your sales growth compared to your competition? Subscribers of Financial Intelligence have these answers at their fingertips, click here for more information. 
  • In what seems to be a response from guests to new concerns due to the Omicron variant, delivery and to-go sales growth accelerated in recent weeks, while dine-in sales growth has declined further. 
  • 32 states posted positive sales growth during the first week of 2022.  
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were Western, Mountain Plains, Florida and the Southeast.  

 

Rising Menu Prices Continue to Impact ‘Restaurant Value’ Guest Sentiment  

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  • ‘Value’ is a growing concern as inflation and wage pressures continue to force restaurants to raise menu prices to cover their rising costs.  
  • Data from online restaurant reviews reveals guests are becoming increasingly less positive about the perceived ‘value’ of their latest restaurant interactions when comparing data from Q4 2021 to the same quarter in 2019. 
  • In full-service restaurants, there were fewer positive mentions of ‘specials’ and there were more negative mentions on the restaurant experience; for example: “not worth it”.  
  • In casual dining and family dining there were also fewer positive mentions based on restaurants in these segments having ‘reasonable prices’. 
  • For limited-service brands there is growing negativity around ‘value’. Quick service guests offered more negative mentions about “high” prices, “not worth it”, “overpriced” and “waste of money”. Fast casual brands are seeing more negative mentions of “not worth it”, “expensive” and “value” itself.  
  • What do your guests say about your brand? Use Black Box Guest Intelligence™ for unsolicited guest feedback delivering insight into the minds of your guests. 

 

 

January 12, 2022

 

 

Breakfast Daypart Ranks Second After Big Improvement in December Sales Growth   

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Data through the week ending January 2, 2022

 

  • Restaurant sales growth improved compared to the previous week but remains much lower than the first half of December. New Year’s Eve occurring on a Friday is partly to blame but the data suggests there may also be some slowdown in sales from more cautious consumers in response to the new surge in Covid cases.  
  • Despite improvement in sales growth, traffic deteriorated during the last week of 2021 and was the worst results for the industry since March.  
  • Average check growth posted its highest growth rate in over a decade.  
  • Data from the first week of 2022* will provide a cleaner look into the sales and traffic trends for the industry.  
  • To keep track of sales and traffic week to week and understand how you are performing compared to the market, subscribe to Financial Intelligence. Subscribers will know on Friday the results of the previous calendar week. Click here for more information. 
  • The best performing segments in December were fast casual, quick service and fine dining. 
  • The mid-afternoon daypart had the highest sales growth during December.  
  • There has been a resurgence in breakfast sales, which became the second-best performing daypart of the month. Late-night declined sharply in sales growth during December and continues to be the only daypart that consistently experiences negative growth 
  • The best performing regions in December were the Southeast, Southwest and Florida.  
  • The worst performing regions based on sales growth were New York-New Jersey, the Midwest and New England. 

 

* Data from the first week of 2022 will not be affected by any calendar shifts. 

 

End of 2021 Closes with Record-High Online Mentions of Understaffing in Full-Service Restaurants 

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  • Mentions in online reviews of restaurants being “short-staffed“ or “understaffed” dropped precipitously during the second half of November through the first week of December, especially for full-service restaurants.  
  • During the remaining weeks of December, there were steep weekly increases in mentions of “short-staffed” and the last week of December ended at a record high.  
  • The casual dining segment drove the largest increases in these mentions, and by the last week of December shattered the record high set in June and July of 2021. The pattern was similar for the other full-service segments, not reaching the record-breaking levels seen during the summer. 
  • Limited-service ended the year at lower levels than the peaks hit during mid-fall.  
  • The pattern for fast casual was like full-service with an uptick in mentions the last few weeks of December, but the size of increase was more muted. “Short-staffed“ and “under-staffed” chatter for quick service fell the last few weeks of December. 

 

January 5, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales See Strong Start to December  

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Data through the week ending December 26, 2021

 

  • Restaurant sales growth experienced a sharp downturn during the week of Christmas, but this was affected by the holiday falling during the weekend. Christmas fell on a Wednesday during the comparable week in 2019.  
  • Beyond the effect of the calendar shift, there was some pullback from consumers likely in response to heightened concerns from the spike in cases of Covid driven by the new Omicron variant. 
  • Sales growth was negative for the first time since the week ending March 14. It was also the worst week for restaurant traffic during the same period. 
  • Learn how you can improve results & outperform the competition with sales & traffic insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence 
  • Sales growth declined for all full-service segments compared to the previous week. The biggest drops were in casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining. Fast casual experienced a strong improvement in sales growth, while quick service only experienced a slight increase. 
  • The downturn in sales growth was widespread throughout the country, with 24 states plus the District of Columbia posting negative sales growth during the week. Only four states had negative sales growth the previous week. 
  • Sales growth performance worsened during the week in all regions of the country. The top performers were the Southeast, Texas, Southwest and Mountain Plains. 
  • The worst performing regions were New England, New York-New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

 

Minimum Wage Increasing in Many States, Market Conditions Pushing Restaurant Wages Further 

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  • Minimum wages increased in 21 states as of the beginning of 2022. This could create some concern for restaurants, particularly those in limited-service segments given the pressure it can put on labor costs. Half of the states in the country are scheduled to increase their minimum wage at some point this year. 
  • Market conditions have been driving historically high increases in limited-service hourly wages going back through most of 2021, as restaurant companies had to increase their pay offerings to attract and retain increasingly scarce talent. As of October, hourly wages for limited-service restaurants accelerating again and posted year-over-year growth well into double digits.  
  • Employee expectations have changed, particularly regarding wages and scheduling. Read Why the Restaurant Staffing Shortage is Becoming a Bigger Issue. 
  • Analyzing the data at the state level for limited-service restaurants revealed that 19 of the top 20 states that had the biggest year-over-year increases raised median pay in October to levels that were already higher than the minimum wage as of January of 2022. The only exception (Virginia) increased median pay to what would become the new minimum wage as of January. 
  • Six of the seven states with the highest year-over-year increase in hourly wages for limited-service team members in October (Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Missouri) saw raises averaging almost 20% even though all of them were scheduled for minimum wage increases in 2022. 

 

December 14, 2022

 

 

Restaurant Sales See Strong Start to December  

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Data through the week ending December 5, 2021

 

  • Despite sales growth results that were 2.0 percentage points lower than the strongest week in November, the first week of December posted stronger sales growth than the monthly sales growth reported for August, September and October. 
  • Year-over-year average check grew by 7.0% during the week. The segments with the largest year-over-year check growth were fine dining, family dining and fast casual. At 6.2%, casual dining was the segment with smallest check growth during the week. 
  • Learn how you can improve results & outperform the competition with sales & traffic insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence 
  • Dine-in sales are far from recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Limited-service restaurants are still experiencing much steeper losses than those in full-service. In full-service, the loss in alcoholic beverage sales during the week was proportional to the decline in dine-in sales. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest and Western regions had the strongest sales growth during the week. The regions with weakest sales growth were the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New York-New Jersey. 

 

Technology can be a game-changer for restaurants, impacting the guest experience, employee workflows and your bottom line. To help you navigate all of your options, read Trending Technology in Restaurants. 

 

Speed of Service & Attentiveness Key Drivers for Better Food Quality Sentiment  

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  • In Q3, quarter-over-quarter traffic growth eased. As restaurant teams got a chance to catch their breath, add some staff to their payrolls and get back to basics, Black Box Intelligence™ identified a new connection in guests’ commentary. 
  • In full-service restaurant reviews, when ‘Speed of Service’ and ‘Attentiveness’ net sentiment improves, often times perception of ‘Food Quality’ improves as well. When positive review chatter around “fast,” “quick” and “prompt” (Service Speed), coincides with more positive mentions of “attentive”, “refills”, and “checking back” (Service Attentive) positive mentions of “fresh” as in food was “hot and fresh” trend higher in reviews (Food Quality). 

 

Understanding broader trends in the industry can help you prepare your restaurant reputation management strategy which is essential to retaining your employees and attracting new ones. Sign up for the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot to receive up-to-date insights on what restaurant consumers are saying.  

 

REVIEW VERBATIMS 

          “…She sat me right away took my order within -2- minutes and I had my food within -7- minutes! Food was hot and fresh and delicious.” 

          “Great tasting fresh food. Reasonable prices. Wonderful and speedy service.” 

          “They were short on staff, but the manager stepped in to help. We had hot, fresh food. Server and manager were friendly and checked on us several times.” 

 

Black Friday Restaurant Sales Eclipsed Pre-Pandemic Levels 

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  • Black Friday spend at restaurants modestly eclipsed pre-pandemic sales from 2019. The gain was driven by the limited-service segment, which grew mid-single digits, overcoming the high-single digit decline at full-service restaurants. 
  • At limited-service restaurants, all age brackets increased their spend vs. 2019, except for the 65+ cohort. The strongest gain came from 18-24 year-olds, with spend up double digits. 
  • The 18-24 year-olds also spent more at full-service restaurants on Black Friday than two years ago. However, all other age cohorts spent less, except for the 35-44 cohort, which managed a small gain of less than 1%. Like limited-service, the 65+ cohort spent the least, down over 25% from the 2019 level. 
  • Restaurants use consumer data to track guest frequency and guest habits. Read How Tropical Smoothie Uses Consumer Intelligence to Identify New Opportunities 

 

 

December 8, 2021

 

 

Soft Restaurant Sales and Traffic Growth Thanksgiving Week

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Data through the week ending November 28, 2021

 

  • Year-over-year growth in average check increased again, with the largest increase in check since the last week of March.
  • All segments experienced a slowdown in sales growth rates compared to the previous week. The biggest drops in sales growth were in fast casual, quick service and fine dining. Still, despite the decline in sales growth, all segments except for family dining posted positive sales growth.
  • Dinner sales growth softened by 1.5% compared to the previous week’s rate, while lunch growth fell by 1.0%. Much bigger drops were seen in breakfast, mid-afternoon and late-night.
  • California, Florida, Mountain Plains and New England were the best performing regions. The regions with the lowest sales growth were the Southwest, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas.
  • The rise of restaurant delivery is one of the most sweeping changes brought about by the pandemic. Read Delivery for Restaurants: What Operators Need to Know Now

 

Repeat Visits More Common in Limited-Service

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  • Based on consumer credit and debit card data over the last three years, it’s more common for restaurant guests to visit multiple times per day within the limited-service segment, as would be expected given the segment’s greater market saturation in terms of units, lower price points and being better positioned for off-premise (e.g., drive-thru) than their full-service counterparts.
  • On average, roughly 1 in 7 individuals order at limited-service restaurants twice or more times per day, and 2% of individuals frequent three times or more. Multiple daily visits occur more often on Fridays and less often on Sundays. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean these repeat guests are having two or more full meals there. Given the nature of many limited-service brands, in some cases these visits could represent picking up some coffee or a sweet treat as part of their daily routines.
  • When consumers eat at full-service restaurants, less than 1 in 20 individuals eat within the segment more than once per day, and multiple daily visits occur more often on the weekends, with Saturdays edging out Sunday for most often.
  • Restaurants use consumer data to track guest frequency and guest habits. Read How Tropical Smoothie Uses Consumer Intelligence to Identify New Opportunities

 

 

December 1, 2021

 

 

Holiday Season Starts Strong for Restaurants with Best Sales Growth Since Mid-July 

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Data through the week ending November 21, 2021

 

  • Sales growth for the week ending November 21st was the strongest since the week ending July 18. It was the second consecutive week of sales growth above 9.0%.  
  • The latest sales results show all segments with positive sales growth, indicating a strong start to the holiday season. 
  • Traffic growth continues to be negative and fell slightly compared to last week. 
  • Customers say a discount or deal would make them more likely to eat out. Read How to Increase Restaurant Sales and Traffic Using Customer Incentives for tips on getting more guests in your restaurants and boosting sales and traffic. 
  • Average check continues growing at an alarmingly high rate. Check growth year over year was the highest recorded since the beginning of April. Fast casual, fine dining and family dining are experiencing the largest YOY growth. 
  • For the last two weeks, upscale casual joined fine dining as the only two segments with positive growth in dine-in sales.  
  • The best performing regions of the country based on sales growth were the Southeast, Western, Florida and New England. 
  • The regions with the weakest sales growth were the Midwest, New York-New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic and California. 

 

More Teenagers Employed by Restaurants in 2021 

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  • At the close of Q3, restaurants have not returned to their pre-pandemic staffing levels. The shifts that occurred because of the pandemic and staffing shortage seem to not only have affected the number of available employees but also had an interesting impact on teenage employment in restaurants.  
  • Teenagers have commonly made up a considerable portion of the limited-service workforce. 17% of all their hourly, non-management employees were 18 years or younger in age in 2019. The percentage grew to 24% as of the end of Q3 2021.  
  • The 25- to 34-year-old age group had the biggest reduction in its share of limited-service employees. 
  • In full-service restaurants a similar shift was also observed. The percentage of hourly, non-management employees 18 years old or younger was 4.6% in 2019. In Q3 of 2021 the percentage increased to 7.2% year to date. 
  • The 25- to 34-year-old age group had the biggest reduction in its share of full-service employees. 

November 17, 2021

 

 

Check Average Growing Fastest Since April Amid Sales Rebound 

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Data through the week ending November 7, 2021

 

  • After the downturn in restaurant sales last week, the industry was able to rebound in sales growth. Sales growth for the week was 0.6 percentage points stronger than the average for the previous 6 weeks. 
  • Average guest check continues to accelerate and remains a concern for ongoing traffic recovery. Guest year-over-year growth was at its highest since mid-April.  
  • Customers say a discount or deal would make them more likely to eat out. Read How to Increase Restaurant Sales and Traffic Using Customer Incentives for tips on getting more guests in your restaurants and boosting sales and traffic. 
  • Family dining, fast casual and fine dining experienced the largest year-over-year growth in their average checks during the week (as well as over the last 3 weeks).  
  • 46 states posted positive sales growth during the week. The only states with negative sales growth were Oregon, Wisconsin, Hawaii and North Dakota.  
  • The best performing regions of the country based on sales growth were the Southeast, Southwest, Florida and Texas.  
  • The weakest sales growth regions were California, New York-New Jersey, New England and the Midwest. 

 

Staffing Levels Are Worsening, Despite Raising Wages 

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  • In response to the staffing crisis, restaurants have increasingly raised their starting wages to attract and retain more employees. Despite these efforts, the latest data shows staffing levels are actually deteriorating. 
  • Take control of your staffing and don’t let talent go to your competition. Get access to BBI’s Workforce Intelligence dataset and get the data you need to be competitive in this challenging labor environment. 
  • Limited-service restaurants have been operating at lower staffing levels than they did before the pandemic. Exacerbating the challenge, limited-service brands operated with an average of 0.6 fewer hourly employees in September than the period between June and August. 
  • For full-service, staffing levels in September were the worst numbers per location since June for both front-of-house and back-of-house employees. Staffing gaps versus the pre-COVID norm continue to be much deeper for full-service restaurants, with the front-of-house experiencing the biggest shortcomings.  

 

Speed of Service Guest Sentiment Falling, Worse in Limited-Service 

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  • Staffing challenges continue to complicate restaurant execution. Guests are feeling the effects of understaffing in restaurants, as evident by guest sentiment around ‘speed of service’. 
  • The decline in ‘speed of service’ sentiment is worse among limited-service restaurants than for those in full-service. 
  • Restaurant reputation management is essential to retaining your current customers and retaining new ones. Read our latest article, Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management 

 

 

November 10, 2021

 

 

Halloween May Be to Blame for Another Sales & Traffic Stumble in Restaurants

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Data through the week ending October 31, 2021

 

  • Restaurant sales and traffic had a sharp decline in growth this week, most likely due to the Halloween holiday falling on a Sunday. In 2019 the holiday fell on a Thursday.
  • All industry segments posted a drop in sales growth during the week. The biggest drops were in casual dining and upscale casual which presumably were hurt the most by lost dinner sales due to Halloween falling during the weekend this year.
  • All U.S. regions are still seeing positive sales growth despite a decline in growth rate this week.
  • The regions with the best sales growth were Western, Florida, Mountain Plains and the Southeast.
  • The weakest regions were New York-New Jersey, New England, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest.

 

‘Food Preparation’ Sentiment Weakens in Full-Service Amidst Turnover Increases

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  • Restaurants have struggled with declining quarter-over-quarter food guest sentiment in 2021. Data supports that ‘food preparation’ sentiment has fallen every quarter this year; and rising turnover may be partly to blame.
  • Since Q1 of 2021, full-service ‘food preparation’ net sentiment turned negative, meaning that when guests mentioned associated terms in their online reviews, there has been a larger percentage of negative comments than positive ones.
  • By Q3, ‘food preparation’ sentiment was over 5% lower than it was at the end of 2019.
  • Steak temperatures like “medium”, “rare”, “overcooked”, “burned”, “fried”, “grilled” or “undercooked” are mentioned most frequently by guests.
  • Restaurant reputation management is essential to retaining your current customers and retaining new ones. Read our latest article, Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management
  • During the last two quarters, there has been a spike in turnover for hourly back-of-house employees in full-service restaurants. In Q3, back-of-house turnover was over 7% higher than it was in Q4 of 2019. Having more newer employees in the kitchen, some of which may still be in training and are not as familiar with the recipes and processes, is likely one of the factors directly influencing the faltering food preparation scores.

 

Hispanic Share of Restaurant Spend on the Rise

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  • The share of restaurant spending by minority groups is growing coming out of the pandemic. Hispanics have gained the most share.
  • The share of spending by Hispanics at restaurants is now higher than it was pre-pandemic and both full and limited-service restaurants are seeing this increase.
  • Are you tracking share of stomach, share of wallet or share of market? Read Share of Stomach – Everything Restaurants Need to Know About This Important Competitive Intelligence Metric
  • However, since Q2 2020, the share of Hispanic spending in full-service restaurants has grown at a faster clip and is now higher than in limited-service. Two-year growth in Hispanic spending in full-service has been positive the last two quarters, while spending by Caucasians remains down versus Q2 and Q3 of 2019.
  • Two-year spend growth for Hispanics at limited-service restaurants was up double digits and outpaced all other ethnicities over the past two quarters.

 

 

November 3, 2021

 

 

Best Sales and Traffic Results for Restaurants Since July 

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Data through the week ending October 24, 2021

 

  • This week, the industry posted its best sales and traffic growth rates since the 3rd week of July.  
  • Check experienced the highest year-over-year growth recorded since mid-April. Rapid increase in average guest checks continues to lift the industry sales but is also a barrier for full traffic recovery.  
  • All segments, except for fine dining, improved their sales growth compared to the previous week. Casual dining and quick service improved the most during the week.  
  • Dive deeper into the state of the quick service segment with our newest research: How Quick Service is Outpacing the Restaurant Industry in Sales & TrafficClick here for the free download. 
  • This is the first time since July that 48 or more states posted positive sales growth. The only states with negative growth were Wyoming and Hawaii. 

David Cantu joins Black Box Intelligence as CEO – read the full press release here. 

 

Full-Service: Hourly and Management Turnover Continues to Fuel the Staffing Crisis  

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  • As of August, hourly turnover increased by 6 percentage points compared to June. Furthermore, turnover for full-service restaurants increased by double-digits compared to 2019. A big driver behind the staffing crisis continues to be the loss of restaurant employees at an alarmingly high rate. 
  • Management turnover in full-service restaurants has increased during the last two quarters. However, it remains below its 2019 levels, which suggests things could still get worse for these industry segments. Click here to see how Workforce Intelligence™ can help you compare your turnover levels with the rest of the industry. 
  • The states with the highest hourly turnover for full-service restaurant brands are Mississippi, Maine, Alabama, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee. 
  • The states with lowest hourly turnover rates are Nevada, Hawaii, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and Colorado. 

 

Limited-ServiceGuest Sentiment Continued to Erode in Q3 

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  • For the second consecutive quarter, guest sentiment declined for all major attributes of the restaurant experience* compared to the previous quarter.  
  • Apart from ‘intent on return’, which is a metric that, in a way, is a sum of the outcome of all others, ‘food’ experienced the biggest fall in guest sentiment during the 3rd quarter. Complaints from guests of limited-service brands commonly included portion sizes (perhaps an outcome of the soaring prices which increased expectations) and dissatisfaction with fries.  
  • The attribute with the 2nd largest decline during the quarter was ‘service’. Additionally, except for ‘value’, ‘service’ had the lowest net sentiment score during the quarter for limited-service brands. 

Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management. Read the latest blog here. 

*Main attributes: food, beverage, service, ambiance, value and intent on return. 

 

October 27, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Post Strongest Results in 4 Weeks

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Data through the week ending October 17, 2021

 

  • The industry had a strong rebound in sales and traffic growth and the week ending October 17 posted the strongest results in 4 weeks.  
  • Year-over-year check growth was 5.7% during the week, the highest growth recorded since mid-April. Check has grown at 5.0% or more during each of the last 7 weeks.  
  • Only fine dining did improve in sales growth. QSR, fast casual and casual dining improved the most (improved sales growth by 1.9 percentage points or more during the week).  
  • Dive deeper into the state of the quick service segment with our newest research: How Quick Service is Outpacing the Restaurant Industry in Sales & TrafficClick here for the free download. 
  • Only 9 states had negative sales growth during the week: Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming and Hawaii. 

 

Full-Service: Service Guest Sentiment Improved in Q3

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  • Hourly turnover rose rapidly in the last three quarters for limited-service restaurants. By August 2021, the rolling 12-month hourly turnover rate was an alarming 19 percentage points higher than it was in 2019. 
  • Not only is turnover rising for all employees, the percentage of new hires that leave the company within the first 90 days of employment is also increasing. Is your turnover better than your competitors? Click here to see how Workforce Intelligence™ can help you. 
  • Hourly turnover for limited-service restaurants continues to trend higher in the southeastern corner of the country. The states with highest hourly turnover are Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. 

 

Grocery Share of Wallet Has Returned to Pre-COVID Levels 

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  • The 2nd quarter was especially challenging for restaurants. In full-service brands, guest sentiment fell across the board for all main categories tracked compared to sentiment during the 1st quarter. Guest Intelligence tracks 6 main categories ‘food’, ‘beverage’, ‘service’, ‘ambiance’, ‘value’ and ‘intent on return’. Click here for more details. 
  • Full-service restaurants improved ‘service’ net sentiment during the 3rd quarter compared to 2nd quarter scores. ‘Beverage’ sentiment remained essentially flat quarter over quarter in Q3. 
  • Full-service restaurants experienced an erosion in net sentiment for ‘food’, ‘ambiance’, ‘value’ and ‘intent on return’ during the quarter. The biggest drop in net sentiment occurred in restaurant ‘ambiance’, followed by ‘food’. 

*Main categories: food, beverage, service, ambiance, value and intent on return. 

 

October 19, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Fell to New 3-Month Low 

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Data through the week ending October 10, 2021

 

  • The slowdown for restaurant sales and traffic continued for the 3rd consecutive week, the weakest since mid-June.  
  • The decline in sales growth for the week was driven primarily by a decline in sales growth in family dining. Sales growth in fine dining and upscale casual also eroded during the week.  
  • Quick service was the only segment that improved sales growth during the week. Fast casual and casual dining sales remained flat compared to the previous week. 
  • How are your sales stacking up to your competitors, your region and your segment? Sign up for a demo of Black Box Financial Intelligence™.  
  • After 5 weeks of positive sales growth for all U.S. regions, New England and New York-New Jersey fell into negative territory during the week. California was the region with the biggest decline in its sales growth during the week was California. 
  • The best performing regions of the country during the week were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Western region (which excludes California). 

 

Staffing Still Plagues Restaurants, Significant Jump in Hourly Turnover  

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  • Staffing is still an issue for restaurants across the U.S. and across all segments. Lately, there have been small improvements in full-service brands. 
  • There was a significant jump in hourly turnover in August. After a small improvement in July, August numbers reverted to align more with what we saw in June. 
  • Top 5 things restaurant employees look for in a new job: Starting hourly wage, Promotion Opportunities, Flexible Schedules, Health Benefits & Paid Time Off and Company Culture/Work Environment. Check out the full “The Post Pandemic Restaurant Employee” whitepaper here. 

 

 

Grocery Share of Wallet Has Returned to Pre-COVID Levels 

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  • During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer behaviors and spending changed. Grocery was one of the greatest beneficiaries in terms of share of wallet gains, along with online retail and home and garden. 
  • As of Q3, roughly two quarters past the broad vaccine rollout, grocery share of wallet returned to pre-COVID levels (2019), losing share mostly to full-service restaurants, but to limited-service restaurants as well.  
  • Since the fully vaccinated rate broke through 15% (early April), limited-service restaurants have captured slightly more share of wallet. 
  • While limited-service restaurants have been a clear beneficiary of pandemic-driven consumer behaviors changes, the biggest share takers, as of Q3 2021, are online retail as well as pet products and services. Since early April 2021, online retail lost some of its share gains, while pet products and services remained flat. 

Share of Stomach – Everything Restaurants Need to Know About This Important Competitive Intelligence Metric. Check our latest post here! 

 

 

October 13, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Fell to New 3-Month Low 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 3, 2021

 

  • Sales and traffic growth for the week ending October 3rd were the weakest since mid-June. 
  • Is your traffic better than your competitors? Sign up for a demo of Black Box Financial Intelligence™ to compare your performance to your competition. See sales and traffic by segment, region, cuisine and more. Click here to sign up for a demo. 
  • Sales growth for all segments except for fine dining deteriorated during the last 2 weeks in September compared with the first 3 weeks of the month*. The slowdown in sales growth was driven primarily by family dining and quick service. 
  • Dine-in sales growth is negative for all industry segments except fine dining. Quick service, fast casual and fine dining improved in their dine-in sales growth during the last 2 weeks of the month. 
  • A decline in off-premise contributed to the slowdown in sales for limited-service brands over the last 3 weeks. For full-service restaurants, off-premise sales growth has been trending down since mid-August. Nonetheless, it is still extremely high. 
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Florida, California and Texas.  
  • The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, New England, the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. 

* September has 5 weeks according to our reporting convention 

 

 

Full-Service Restaurants, Travel and Recreation Among Most Improved Industries  

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  • Consumer behavior and spending have changed since the COVID-19 vaccine became broadly available. As of Q3 2021, the industries that experienced the largest pullbacks in spend levels compared to their pre-vaccine share of wallet percentages* are grocery, discount/club stores and online retail.  
  • The industries that have seen the greatest rebound in spend are travel, convenience/drug/diet, ground transportation, leisure & recreation and full-service restaurants. However, leisure & recreation, department stores, full-service restaurants and travel remain the hardest hit relative to pre-COVID share of wallet levels. 
  • Since fully vaccinated rates broke through 15% of the US population in early April, full-service restaurants have recaptured half of its lost share of wallet compared to pre-COVID levels. 

*defined as the 12 months ending March 2021 

 

 

Span of Control for Multi-Unit Managers Increased in Full-Service Restaurants 

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  • Span of control* for multi-unit managers shifted significantly since last March when looking at full vs. limited-service restaurants. 
  • For full-service restaurants, the span of control for multi-unit managers increased. In January of 2020, the median company had their multi-unit managers directly overseeing an average of 7.8 restaurants. By August of 2021 that number increased by one more restaurant. Multi-unit managers in full-service are now responsible for an average 8.8 restaurants each. 
  • Not much changed for limited-service. In January of 2020, a multi-unit manager was assigned to 7.5 restaurants, on average. In August of 2021, that number reduced slightly to an average 7.3 restaurants under each multi-unit manager’s supervision. 

*those people directly managing multiple general managers of individual restaurants. 

October 6, 2021

Voice of the Operator – New COVID Vaccine Regulations 

Powered by survey data from 100+ restaurant companies, download the full results here. 

 

  • While most respondents said they do not agree with the new mandates to require vaccinations of employees or weekly negative COVID results, the percentage of those in favor of the new regulations was higher for limited service brands.  
  • Most companies have not finalized their go-forward plans on how they will approach the new requirements. 9% of companies responding said they have decided that they will require vaccines for all staff.  
  • 14% of operators believe that traffic will increase as a result of the regulations, 9% believe that sales will increase. Most respondents believe that the guest experience will also improve. 

Vaccine Mentions in Restaurant Reviews Peaked in May, Sentiment Has Shifted 

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Sentiment and tone of online comments about “vaccines” shifted since the beginning of the year.  

  • January – May 15: For many, getting vaccinated meant getting back to normal and heading back to dine in at restaurants. “So nice to get out with family again” or “Celebrating being fully vaccinated against Covid” are a few examples of popular online comments while dining out.  
  • Mid-May – August 15: Although the CDC made masks optional for those fully vaccinated, some restaurant brands decided to keep their mask policies. This created another round of dissenting views and potential friction for restaurants, from those that were vaccinated “Masks optional if vaccinated was a nice touch!” and “I am vaccinated for COVID-19 and this place is requiring me to use a mask, what a joke… therefore I will go somewhere else.” The frustration and confusion increased with the Delta variant in July and the beginning of August. 
  • August 15 – September:  Chatter shifted due to several states and municipalities mandating vaccine cards to dine indoors “…the girls at the front are amazing, respectful, doing an amazing job especially dealing with not too pleasant customers during this time of showing vaccine cards.” and “they said I needed the physical copy of my vaccine card and wouldn’t let me and my friends in. We all had pictures of our vaccine cards and some of us even had the Excelsior pass but they still wouldn’t let us in.” 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Post Weakest Results Since June 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 26, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Weekly restaurant sales and traffic growth posted the weakest results since mid-June. Traffic held up a bit better than sales during the week. 
  • The decline in sales growth was driven by a slowdown in sales for family dining, casual dining and quick service (which had the biggest growth rate decline). 
  • All industry segments, except for family dining, achieved positive comp sales during the week. The top performing segments were fine dining, fast casual and quick service. 
  • 44 states and the District of Columbia saw a decline in sales growth. The only states that improved sales growth were Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Alaska and Ohio. 
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Western region.  
  • The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southwest. 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

September 29, 2021


Check Growth Rate Hits New Record  

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Data through the week ending September 19, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Three weeks into September restaurant sales growth remains stronger than it was in August. However, the industry is still not seeing sales growth as strong as July, the best month for sales growth in over a decade. 
  • 2-year check growth rates from the last two weeks are the highest ever recorded.  
  • While dine-in sales are negative for full- and limited- service, dine-in sales losses are much larger for limited-service restaurants. 
  • Sales growth for all dayparts improved compared to August. Mid-afternoon is the top performing daypart, followed by dinner and lunch. Although still underperforming the rest, late-night is on path to achieving its first month of sales growth since January of 2020. 
  • The top performing regions were the Southeast, Texas, Western region* and Florida.  
  • The worst performing regions were the Midwest, New York-New Jersey, the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic. 

*western region does not include California 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

 

Restaurants Paying More to Overcome Staffing Shortages  

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  • Download the State of the Restaurant Workforce report for the latest data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ including highlights from the annual Total Rewards Survey and our latest joint research with Snagajob, The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who wants to work and why 
  • Hourly wage growth* has increased steadily since the beginning of the year. Wage growth for crew members in limited-service remained flat compared to June, but at a historically high level that shows the push for using higher wages as a resource to attract talent. 
  • In full-service restaurants, wage increases for line cooks have also accelerated in 2021. July data shows the rolling 3-month average rising even further. 
  • While there was no major movement in staffing levels during May and June, restaurants experienced some improvement in July based on the average number of employees per location. 

* Rolling 3-month average year over year 

  

More Guests Mention Understaffed Restaurants in Full-Service 

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  • The number of online mentions of restaurants being short staffed increased steadily since the beginning of the year and peaked in mid-July. The number of “understaffed” mentions remains at high levels near the end of Q3. They eased some in August when traffic softened, but spiked up to near the July peak during the week of Labor Day.  
  • The spike during Labor Day was driven by full-service restaurants. Those in limited-service also experienced increased mentions, but not nearly the same magnitude as full-service. 
  • The largest increase in “short staffed” mentions was in family dining versus the beginning of the year; mentions are running about 30% higher than the industry overall in Q3 to date. Casual dining is also trending about 10% higher than the industry. Limited-service restaurants are trending below these industry changes.   

September 22, 2021


Restaurant
Post Worst Traffic Results Since June
 

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Data through the week ending September 12, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Falling 2.0 percentage points, traffic growth was the most concerning metric during the week and smallest growth rate posted since mid-June. 
  • Average check growth accelerated again, reaching a new record high. 
  • Off-premise sales growth weakened significantly for limited-service brands. There was also a decline in off-premise sales growth for full-service restaurants, although not as sharp as for limited-service. 
  • The only states with negative sales growth this week were New Mexico, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oregon and Hawaii. The District of Columbia also experienced negative sales growth. 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

 

State of the Restaurant Workforce 

  • A recent report published by Black Box Intelligence™ and Snagajob revealed that most restaurant employees (62%) stated that they have been the subject of emotional abuse or disrespect from guests. 
  • With the number of COVID cases again a concern and restaurant employees being asked to enforce the policies designed to protect the guests and themselves (such as wearing masks and showing proof of vaccination), tensions are escalating and restaurant employees are being put at risk. 
  • Furthermore, the vast majority of restaurant employees remain fearful of COVID and intend to continue to protect themselves. The report showed that 83% of restaurant employees plan to continue to wear masks to keep themselves safe regardless of their employer’s or government requirements. 

Download the State of the Restaurant Workforce report for the latest data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with some highlights from the annual Total Rewards Survey. 

  

Share of Digital Sales Remains High Compared to Pre-Pandemic Norm 

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  • Much has changed in the way consumers order and pay for food over the last two years. The pandemic has been a catalyst for digital (online) food sales compared to traditional offline, in-restaurant ordering and payment. Total digital food sales, which includes online sales through full- and limited- service restaurants, traditional and delivery groceries, as well as meal kits, represented 4% of total sales in 2019. Most recently, digital food sales represent nearly 3x the pre-pandemic mix level.  
  • Digital grocery sales reached a pandemic high share of 6% of total grocery sales, but have since retreated as the US economy reopened and consumers feel more confident to return to restaurant dining rooms and grocery stores. In August, with the delta variant and COVID cases surging, digital grocery sales increased modestly in terms of mix from the previous months. 
  • Limited-service restaurants began the pandemic with a higher mix of digital sales than their full-service and grocery counterparts. Digital sales mix reached a max of 21% of total limited-service sales during the pandemic and remain just off that high water mark. 
  • Full-service restaurant digital sales mix currently tracks in the low double digit range despite the reopening of dining rooms, a significant increase from the sub-4% level before the pandemic.

Learn how you can track your brand’s Share of Stomach with our one-of-a-kind Consumer Intelligence tool.

September 15, 2021

 

Sentiment for Full-Service Improved in August, Limited-Service Experienced a Decline 

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  • Guest sentiment shifted during August compared to July because of the swings in sales and traffic during the month. 
  • Full-service guest sentiment increased slightly and was largely driven by strong improvement in the family dining segment. 
  • Limited-service, however, had a decrease in sentiment with the steepest declines in fast casual. 

For more in-depth analysis on these shifts, check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot. The August publication will be released the afternoon of September 15th. 

 

Share of Stomach Winners: Limited-Service Restaurants and Grocery Delivery

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  • Limited-service restaurants and grocery delivery continue to hold on to their share of stomach gains captured during the pandemic, taking share from full-service restaurants and traditional grocery.  
  • As the delta variant surges, traditional grocery recaptured share in August, with full and limited-service restaurants garnering less consumer spend.  
  • Combined, grocery delivery and traditional grocery currently represent roughly 1% less of their pre-pandemic share of stomach. Grocery delivery has nearly double its pre-pandemic share, while traditional grocery has lost ground.  
  • As the economy has reopened, full service restaurants made some progress winning back consumers but still trail its pre-pandemic level by 1.5-2.0 percentage points, which is modestly higher than the prior month likely due to a delta variant driven pullback.  

Learn how you can track your brand’s Share of Stomach with our one-of-a-kind Consumer Intelligence tool. 

Strongest Restaurant Sales Results Since July 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 5, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

  • This was the strongest week since the 3rd week of July.  
  • Traffic improved, but growth remains negative. 
  • Casual dining was the only segment not to see an improvement during the week.  
  • Despite an improvement during the week, family dining remains the weakest segment based on sales growth.  
  • Fine dining was the top performing segment, followed by fast casual and quick service. 
  • Off-premise sales growth for limited-service restaurants accelerated during the week. For full-service restaurants, off-premise sales growth remained elevated but flat compared to the previous week. 
  • The effect of hurricane Ida was massive for Louisiana the day it hit the coast (the entire week was down -27% in sales despite the hurricane only affecting the last day of the week). By the following week, although sales growth was still negative, there were some signs of recovery. Sales growth in Louisiana for the week was -8.3%, an improvement of 18 percentage points. 
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were Florida, the Western region, the Southeast and California.  
  • The weakest regions based on sales growth during the week were the Southwest, New York-New Jersey, New England and Mountain Plains. 

September 8, 2021

 

State of the Restaurant Workforce

Powered by the State of the Workforce Webinar Polls 9/2 | 300+ participants

 

  • For the next 6-12 months, 46% of restaurant corporate office staff are expected to work at the office at least 3 days a week. 
  • Only 28% of 300+ operators surveyed on the webinar classify working at the corporate office as “completely voluntary”.  
  • Over 45% of restaurant operators still believe that higher pay in other industries is the main reason for employees leaving the industry. Other reasons included better working hours, company culture and a lack of professional development opportunities. 

Check out the on-demand webinar: State of the Restaurant Workforce HERE!

NOW AVAILABLE: 2021 Total Rewards Survey Report

  • Insights include data on staffing, training, development, D&I, compensation, benefits & more. 
  • Report Highlight: Cost of turnover has increased for general managers. 

  • 100% of participating companies reported being understaffed at the hourly level. 81% reported a shortage of managers and 50% reported being understaffed at the general manager level. 

 

Worst Sales Growth in Over 2 Months Amid COVID Spike and Hurricane Ida

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 29, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Since mid-March, restaurants continue to post stronger sales than they did in 2019. Nonetheless, the industry posted its weakest sales growth since early June in the last week of August. 
  • Sales growth declined by 1.2 percentage points compared to the prior week, which is the largest drop experienced during any of the weeks in August.  
  • 41 states posted positive growth. Sales growth declined for 36 states during the week compared to the previous weekly results.  
  • Louisiana, Wyoming, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Alaska, Oklahoma and Ohio had the biggest drops in sales growth. 
  • As expected, hurricane Ida had a tremendous negative effect on restaurants in Louisiana. Sales growth fell by 30 percentage points in that state compared to the previous week. This drop only reflects Sunday, August 29, the day the storm first hit the coast.  
  • Ida had an impact on Mississippi, although to a smaller degree. Sales growth fell by over 8 percentage points compared to the previous week. 

 

Guests are Missing Restaurant Deals and Coupons by Full-Service Restaurants

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  • Mentions of specials, deals and coupons by full-service restaurant guests declined compared to pre-pandemic levels, suggesting restaurants are offering fewer discounts. The reduction in these types of discounts is likely contributing to pushing up average check levels.  
  • Happy hour and lunch specials stand out as an area where full-service restaurants might be pulling back. Guest chatter around these specials has dropped noticeably. However, when guests reference lunch specials their ratings tend to be higher. 
  • Coupon usage is another type of discount being mentioned less often. Free coupons are one area mentioned less compared to pre-COVID. 

 

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

September 1, 2021

 

Cash is King: More Financial Incentives Being Offered to Restaurant Hourly Employees

Powered by the 2021 Black Box Intelligence™ Total Rewards Survey Results 
  • Almost 90% of all companies are now offering referral bonuses to their restaurant hourly employees to help improve their staffing. Compared to 2019, the percentage of companies offering these incentives increased by almost 20 percentage points. 
  • The Total Rewards Survey Results revealed a significant increase in the use of spot awards and bonuses for restaurant hourly employees. 
  • The report showed an upswing in the percentage of companies that said they offer flexible scheduling, family/elder care leave and financial planning to their restaurant employees. 
  • Compared to 2019, the average number of sick days offered as paid time off increased by 2.5 times for restaurant hourly employees.
     

Download the full report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob. The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why features exclusive data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with survey results from over 4,700 former, current and future hourly restaurant workers.  

Restaurant Sales Remain Relatively Stable After Some Softening in Previous Weeks

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Data through the week ending August 15, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Restaurants posted their 24th consecutive week of positive sales growth. Sales growth fluctuated by only 0.3 percentage points during each of the last four weeks. This suggests the industry may have reached some stability despite fears that the sales decline seen during the last week of July could signal a significant downturn due to the new wave of COVID Delta variant cases.  
  • Looking at the 10 states that have the highest number of COVID cases per capita (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and South Carolina) revealed that the spike in the number of cases has not yet created a large erosion in restaurant sales. 6 of the 10 states improved their sales growth during the week by an average of 1.1 percentage points. 
  • For Kentucky, Tennessee, Alaska and Alabama, the 4 hotspot states that saw a decline in their sales performance, the average growth rate decline was -1.6 percentage points. However, even after this slowdown, average same-store sales growth for these 4 states remained positive, averaging 7.3%. 
  • Except for fine dining, dine-in sales growth continues to be negative for all segments. Upscale casual, casual dining and fast casual had some small improvement in their dine-in sales growth during the week. 

 

COVID-related Mentions Increase Among Guests, Mask Mentions Lead the Way 

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  • Mentions of COVID protocols like masks, social distancing and sanitizing have been dropping steadily since early April when vaccinations per day were peaking and the number of new cases was slowing.  However, since mid-July when cases began to rise, so has the number of mentions. Nonetheless, they still are at lower levels as of mid-August compared to where they were during the first months of the year. 
  • As mentions have dropped, net sentiment related to these COVID protocol terms also declined, suggesting those guests bringing them up in reviews are more negative about what they see (and are among those guests most vigilant about how restaurants are handling these protocols).   
  • Mentions of masks are rising at a slightly faster rate than for other COVID protocol-related terms. This may be indicating guests are using masks as a gauge of overall safety. Levels for the number of mask mentions are still half of where they were in the January through April time period.    
  • Positive masks mentions are about staff wearing masks and negative mentions are about masks not being worn by them. To much less extent guests are complaining about being asked to wear them or that other guests are not wearing them.

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

August 25, 2021

 

4 Driving Factors Contributing to the Restaurant Labor Shortage

  • According to a recent report published by Black Box Intelligence™ and Snagajob, there are 4 driving factors contributing to the restaurant staffing shortage: wages and benefits, challenges related to childcare, opportunities in other industries and concerns about physical and mental health. 
  • The survey report revealed that 66% of employees that left the restaurant industry would be willing to return if the right conditions were met. 
  • The 3 main reasons they left the industry were the higher pay offered in other industries, the need for a consistent schedule and income as well as a lack of professional development and promotion opportunities. 
  • The most important things restaurant workers look for in a new job are the starting hourly wage, promotion opportunities and flexible schedules. 
  • Black Box Intelligence is hosting a special State of the Workforce webinar on September 2nd. Sign up to attend or receive access to the on-demand version after the session.

Download the full report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob. The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why features exclusive data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with survey results from over 4,700 former, current and future hourly restaurant workers.  

Restaurant Sales Weaken Throughout the Country

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Data through the week ending August 15, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Despite 22 weeks of stronger sales growth compared to the same period in 2019, sales growth is softening and the industry posted the weakest sales growth in the last 9 weeks. Traffic growth also weakened. 
  • 42 states averaged lower sales growth during the first 2 weeks of August compared to the 4 weeks in July. 
  • Rapid rise in new cases may not be the only factor behind the recent softening of restaurant sales since many COVID-19 hotspot states are experiencing an improvement in sales growth in recent weeks.  
  •  Montana, Delaware, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Arkansas, New Mexico, Virginia, Alaska and Alabama saw an increase in their sales growth during the first two weeks of August. 
  •  Hawaii, Vermont, North Dakota, Nevada, Illinois, Louisiana, Washington, Connecticut and Oklahoma experienced the biggest drop in sales growth (5 percentage points or more vs. July) during the first weeks of August. 
  • Dine-in sales growth is negative for all industry segments except for fine dining. 2-year growth for off-premise sales has picked up in recent weeks.  

 

Fewer Guest Mentions of Specials and “Good” Prices, More Mentions of “Not Worth It” Experiences 

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  • Mounting cost pressures from wages to commodities and other expenses are forcing restaurant companies to raise menu prices to cover higher expenses. This has an impact on what guests are saying about “value” in their online restaurant reviews. 
  • Compared to Q2 of 2019, there are fewer guest mentions of “specials” overall, especially at lunch. This may be part of the reason traffic during lunch has not improved at the same pace as it has for dinner. 
  • The largest changes in guest comments are fewer positive mentions of “good” and “reasonable” prices compared to 2019.  
  • For limited-service, “not worth”, “extra charges” and “smaller portions”, are trending higher than in 2019, on top of fewer positive mentions of “reasonable”, “good” or “great” prices.  
  • In full-service restaurants, there are fewer positive mentions around lunch and drink specials, as well as happy hour. Additionally, there are more negative mentions around “not worth it” compared to two years ago.

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

August 18, 2021

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic Slow Again, Signs Point to Delta Variant Impact

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Data through the week ending August 8, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • While the restaurant industry extended its streak of consecutive positive sales growth weeks to 21, sales and traffic growth trends softened for the fourth week in a row. 
  • Off-premise growth improved compared to last week, while dine-in sales declined; a sign that consumers are reacting to the rapid rise in U.S. COVID cases driven by the delta variant.  
  • Only the fast casual segment improved sales growth compared to last week. 
  • Fine dining had the biggest drop in sales growth compared to the previous week, followed by family dining, which dropped further into negative territory.  
  • Sales growth performance declined for 29 states during the week compared to last week, with 4 states posting negative sales (along with the District of Columbia). Only 1 state fell into negative territory last week. 
  • Zooming in on the southern region, which contains the largest COVID per capita numbers, two states posted weaker sales trends compared to the prior week: Louisiana and Florida. During the week, Louisiana represented one of the largest sequential drops in the country.  

 

As Full-Service Restaurant Transactions Return, Smaller Order Recover Lags Larger Orders 

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  • Full-service restaurant tickets, which include taxes and tip, grew by nearly 20% on a two-year basis as of Q2 2021. Part of this is from higher menu pricing to offset prime cost inflation, but also to fewer small orders as consumers have adjusted patterns due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. 
  • Larger ticket order transactions of $70 or more have exceeded the level two years ago, while small orders (sub $30) remain well below, down nearly -40% as of Q2 2021. Those small orders, representing over 50% of transactions two years ago, currently make up 10 percentage points less of the mix. 
  • The restaurant backdrop improved last quarter as the economy reopened and vaccines increased consumer confidence, helping full-service transactions grow compared to Q1. Nonetheless, smaller order growth continues to lag, increasing at a rate half of larger orders.  
  • Full-service large party orders increased rapidly, up 32% quarter over quarter, as consumer demand for socializing at restaurants was extremely high heading into the quarter and health risk began to fade. However, the share of small order transactions at full-service restaurants, which skews to solo guests, remains displaced. 

As Restaurant Restrictions Lifted in Q2 2021, Special Occasion Mentions and Net Sentiment Improved

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  • After being restricted for over a year due to COVID, consumers returned to restaurants in Q2 2021 to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. During this period, special occasion mentions grew threefold compared to two years ago. 
  • Net sentiment around special occasions also increased in Q2 2021 vs. Q2 2019 and was driven by improvements in the positive sentiment.  
  • Last quarter, fine dining had the highest percentage of special occasion mentions, but not the highest net sentiment, that honor went to the upscale casual segment.  
  • Upscale and casual dining saw special occasion net sentiment improve versus Q2 2019, while it fell for fine dining and family dining. 

August 11, 2021

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic

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Data through the week ending August 1, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • The industry posted positive sales growth for its 20th consecutive week. Nonetheless, the week ending August 1st was the worst for the industry in the last seven as both sales and traffic growth softened by about 2.0 percentage points. 
  • Fine dining was the only segment able to improve sales growth performance during the week. Sales growth declined in all other segments. The biggest drops in sales growth compared to the previous week were in family dining and quick service. Despite the slowdown in sales, all segments were able to achieve positive sales growth during the week except for family dining. 
  • Although sales growth performance worsened for 42 states during the week ending August 1, Hawaii was the only state with negative sales growth during the week (along with the District of Columbia). 
  • Of the 15 states with biggest declines in sales, only one (Arkansas) was among the 5 states with the largest COVID per capita numbers. Average sales growth performance for Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana was +8.4%, with all of them posting sales growth performance of 5% or better during the week. 

Guest Concerns Related to COVID On the Rise… Again

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  • Mentions related to restaurant COVID protocols as a percentage of total restaurant reviews were going down until the second week of July, when they started to increase.   
  • Limited-service restaurants are experiencing a higher percentage of increase in mentions than those in full-service.   
  • Mentions of masks are driving the increases. Comments frequently referenced whether staff are wearing masks.   
  • Positive guest comments are largely about guests being appreciative of staff wearing masks, while negative mentions include employees not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly. Some guests are also adding information on applicable masks mandates as reminders to restaurants.  
  • Guests of limited-service restaurants complaining about being asked to wear masks is trending again as another point of friction. A common root behind these complaints is lack of signage informing the guests of the restaurant’s current policy or restaurant employees being rude when asking guests to comply. 

Restaurants Hired Aggressively in July; Staffing and Turnover Remain a Problem 

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  • Overall hiring surged during July, with the economy adding over 940,000 new jobs. The restaurant industry added 253,000 jobs to that total, which means 1 in every 4 new jobs created in July was for employees in restaurants and bars. 
  • But about 1 million people that were employed by restaurants pre-pandemic have not yet returned to the industry. This translates to an 8% loss in restaurant employment as of July compared to the beginning of 2020. 
  • Even if headlines point to significant staffing relief for restaurants at the national level, the reality on the ground is quite different, with the average restaurant location continuing to operate with less staff than they did pre-COVID. 
  • A big part of the problem is that employees continue leaving their current restaurant jobs at an extremely fast pace. Turnover rates for restaurant hourly employees in both limited-service and full-service restaurants were higher by June than they were at the end of 2019, even though the unemployment rate is much higher today. And in the case of limited-service, hourly turnover increased by over 15 percentage points just in the last 3 months. 

August 4, 2021

 

Voice of the Restaurant Operator

Insights from Black Box Intelligence Q3 State of the Industry Webinar 
  • To combat price inflation, more than 70% of restaurant operators are raising menu prices. Almost 24% of restaurants are limiting menus. 
  • Of the brands raising menu prices to combat price inflation, the majority have increased price less than 2%. 20% of restaurants have increased price by more than 5%.  

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic

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Data through the week ending July 25, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted 
  • While the industry posted its 19th consecutive week of same-store sales growth, performance dropped and was the worst weekly results in the last 5 weeks. 
  • COVID has re-emerged as a big concern for the industry, as cases begin trending up again and the Delta variant captures the headlines. But, so far, the effect on restaurant sales seems to be minimal. 
  • 11 states had lower same-store sales growth during the week compared to their average growth reported for all of June. Wyoming, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and Arkansas experienced a 2.0 + percentage point decline in same-store sales growth. All but Wyoming still managed to post positive same-store sales growth. 
  •  Sales growth remained at +7.0% or better for 8 of those states, highlighting the strength of the industry’s performance. Despite being a COVID hotspot in recent weeks, Arkansas continues to post double digit growth in restaurant sales. So far, there seems to be a slowdown because of the new wave of COVID cases, but not a sharp drop in sales. 
  • The recent surge in COVID cases seems to be fueling another acceleration in off-premise sales growth. For limited-service, growth in off-premise sales are the strongest they have been in the last 6 weeks. In full-service, off-premise sales growth is also trending up again for the last 4 weeks. 

 

Full-Service: Employee Turnover A Driver Behind Staffing Challenges 

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  • In full-service, rolling 12-month hourly employee turnover is above 100% for May 2021 and has climbed 7 percentage points higher than it was back in 2019.  
  • States with the worst employee retention are seeing turnover rates close to double those seen in states with the best turnover results. In general, states in the southeastern area of the country are experiencing the highest turnover rates, while those in the west are experiencing lower turnover. 
  • Sates with the highest full-service hourly turnover are Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Alabama.  
  • The states with the lowest hourly turnover rates for full-service restaurants are Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Nevada and Washington. 

Limited-Service: Retaining a Larger Percentage of Digital Sales 

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  • Limited-service brands were used to a larger percentage of sales coming in through digital channels compared to full-service restaurants. Full-service brands caught up quickly during the pandemic, even surpassing limited-service restaurants with a greater mix of digital sales at one point. Nonetheless, quick service and fast casual have done a better job at holding on to those gains in digitals sales.   
  • By June, the percentage of all limited-service sales that were placed online (either directly from the restaurant through the brand or through third-party delivery) was still almost 20% of the total. That is a drop of only 1 percentage point from the peak in January and February of this year, which could be more related to seasonality of these orders in winter months rather than a shift in consumer preference away from digital ordering. 
  • Another interesting shift in consumer behavior is related to the size of the orders placed for limited-service restaurants through online vs. offline channels. The norm since 2019 has been for spend per transaction to be much larger when placing an online order than when ordering directly at the restaurant. But the average spend per transaction grew much faster for orders placed offline than for those placed through online channels. As a result, digital orders are currently only 40% larger on average than brick and mortar orders, while the norm back in 2019 was for them to be about 60% larger. 

July 28, 2021

Wide Range in Employee Turnover by State

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  • The national hourly crew turnover rate in limited-service is well above the 100% mark and remains virtually unchanged from 2019. There are some differences when examined at the state level driven by local job market conditions and undoubtedly, minimum wage plays a part as well.
  • In limited-service restaurants, states with the highest turnover are seeing hourly employee turnover rates more than double rates in those states with the best employee retention results.
  • The states with the highest hourly employee turnover rates in limited-service restaurants tend to be in the southeastern part of the country. States with highest turnover include Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama.
  • On the opposite end of the turnover spectrum, states with the lowest hourly turnover rates include New Mexico, New York, California, Washington and Massachusetts. The District of Columbia also has turnover rates that would qualify it among the best performing states based on employee retention.

Digital Orders Capturing More Than Double Their Usual Pre-COVID Share

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  • The pandemic sped up consumer adoption of online food ordering technology for full-service restaurants, with digital spend reaching over 20% of their sales earlier this year, which is triple the pre-pandemic level.
  • Since that time, the full-service segment has witnessed a decline in digital sales mix, driven by re-opened dining rooms, which has increased dine-in (offline) sales.
  • But despite this drop, digital sales still represent more than double the pre-pandemic level at full-service restaurants.
  • Despite this drop, digital sales still represent more than double the pre-pandemic level at full-service restaurants.
  • The full-service segment also observes a bump in spend per order through digital orders compared to orders placed at the restaurant (offline), albeit at a level that is roughly half of the increase seen for limited-service restaurants.

 

Consumer demand for more, convenient options along with the increase in digital ordering has contributed to a boom in virtual restaurants. For an overview of everything about ghost kitchens from menu development to site selection and staffing, download the latest free report today, The Emergence of Ghost Kitchens & Their Rising Impact.

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

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(based on data from the week ending July 18, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

  • Not only did the industry post its 18th consecutive week of growth fueled by strong check growth, but average same-store sales growth during the last 5 weeks is almost double the average recorded for the previous 5-week period.
  • Restaurants continue to be challenged by persistently negative traffic growth. This week was the worst result for the industry in the last 4 weeks.
  • Average check continues to grow at an accelerated pace, both compared to 2019 as well as year over year. Rapidly growing commodity prices and labor costs are likely to continue to push check growth.
  • Fine dining, once again, claimed the top performing industry segment for sales growth.
  • Fast casual and quick service continue performing extremely well, outperforming all segments (except for fine dining).
  • Except for breakfast, all dayparts have improved sales growth compared to June results. By far, mid-afternoon is still the top performing daypart; results have also been strong for dinner and lunch.
  • 46 states posted sales growth during the week. The only exceptions were Hawaii and Wisconsin (which had flat sales vs. 2019), North Dakota and Wyoming.
  • All regions posted positive sales during the week. those with weaker sales growth were the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Texas and New York-New Jersey.

 

July 21, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

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(based on data from the week ending July 11, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

  • The restaurant industry posted positive comp sales for the 17th consecutive week and recorded the strongest sales growth in 2021.
  • Although negative, traffic was stronger for the week than it has been all year. The latest findings continue to support that restaurant sales & wages are advancing but it’s traffic that impedes full recovery.
  • Only the late-night daypart is still seeing lower sales than 2019. Mid-afternoon remains the strongest. The lunch daypart is getting a boost, most likely fueled by more workers returning to offices, and recorded its second-best sales performance of the year (the week of Father’s Day was the highest performing week).
  • Fine dining leads the way in strongest sales growth while the segment experiencing the most improvement is family dining; however, it continues to lag the other segments.
  • Wyoming, North Dakota and Washington D.C. posted negative sales growth during the week while the Southwest, the Western region, the Southeast and California had the strongest regional performance.

Check out Black Box Intelligence Founder, Joni Thomas Doolin, on the Thoughts that Rock Podcast Episode

Restaurant Wage Growth Accelerating

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  • As operators struggle to find enough qualified employees to staff their restaurants, industry wage growth has rapidly increased. For the last three quarters, hourly wages have risen at an increasing pace year over year.
  • In limited-service, the rate of year-over-year increase in hourly wages for team members almost doubled from Q1 to Q2 2021.
  • The increase in Q2 was not as dramatic in full-service, analyzing year-over-year wage growth for line cooks. But that is in part because wage growth started accelerating earlier for these employees. While wage growth was flat year over year back in Q4 2020 for limited-service hourly employees, line cooks in full-service were already seeing significant growth.

Number of Restaurant Transactions Impacted by Children in Household

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  • Since 2019, consumers with children in their household tend to have a larger number of restaurant transactions per quarter than those that have no children. This pattern is most significant for limited-service restaurants.
  • On average, restaurant guests with children in their household ordered from limited-service restaurants (either dine-in or through off-premise) about 2 times more per quarter than those that don’t have children.
  • Consumers have a much larger number of limited-service transactions than full-service restaurant transactions on average. Year-to-date in 2021, households with children have averaged 4.9 limited-service restaurant transactions per each transaction in full-service during a quarter. In the case of households without children, the proportion is 4.3 transactions at limited-service brands per every transaction at a full-service restaurant.

Coronavirus and the Restaurant Industry:

Key Insights – April 23, 2020

Financial Trends
Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence

  • Comp sales growth improved for the second consecutive week YOY compared to the previous week, providing more evidence that the worst of the sales erosion because of COVID-19 may be behind us.
  • Comp sales and traffic for the industry were both -59% during the week ending April 12; this is the first time in the last 4 weeks when the industry posted comp sales or traffic results better than -60%.
  • There continues to be a widening in average spending per guest in limited service vs. full-service concepts. While YOY growth in average guest check for limited service has grown at a pace of 10% or more the last 2 weeks, average spending per guest YOY for full-service restaurants is declining.
  • All industry segments except for fast casual experienced an improvement in their YOY comp sales compared with the previous week’s performance. Fast casual had a 1.1 percentage point decline in comp sales vs. the previous week, but this could simply be the effect of Easter offsetting any improvement in weekly sales achieved by this segment during the week.
  • Family and fine dining are the segments that continue to experience the biggest drops in sales.
  • The best performing restaurant cuisines based on comp sales during the week were pizza, chicken and hamburgers. All of them had comp sales better than -30% during the week.
  • Out of the 11 regions of the country, only California did not improve its YOY comp sales compared with the previous week.

Consumer Trends
Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence

  • Share of food spend remained at 78% for grocery stores during the first 2 weeks of April. That represents an increase of 3 percentage points from grocery’s share back in March.
  • As the industry shifted to off-premise only in response to COVID-19, the number of unique guests ordering meals through third-party delivery has grown by about 60% for limited-service restaurants. Growth in unique users for full-service has doubled YOY.
  • Despite the rapid increase in third-party delivery adoption, off-premise sales for restaurants continue to be predominantly through the restaurants direct off-premise channels (drive-thru, curbside pickups, takeout, restaurants’ own delivery, etc.).

Guest Trends
Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence

  • There has been diverging trends in guest sentiment towards restaurant off-premise offerings among limited-service and full-service restaurants.
  • Limited service, which typically do a significant portion of their business through off-premise channels, initially saw an improvement in their guest sentiment related to both to-go and delivery. However, most of those initial gains were eroded in the latest weeks and guest sentiment is back to being relatively low.
  • For full-service restaurant, there was the same initial jump in guest sentiment for delivery and to-go offerings, and that improvement in sentiment has sustained through the last 4 weeks. Guests have a much more positive sentiment on off-premise offerings from full-service restaurants now compared with the pre-COVID-19 period.

Join us 4/28 to discuss restaurant reopening strategies for the next normal with Kelli Valade, Black Box Intelligence’s CEO & President, Snagajob CEO Mathieu Stevenson, Sweetgreen’s COO Sanjiv Razdan & Union Square Hospitality Group’s CPO, Patti Simpson. Click above to register.

 

Key Insights – April 15, 2020

Financial Trends
Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence

  • Since the negative effect of COVID-19 reached a national scale mid-March, the week ending April 5 was the best for restaurants based on comp sales growth. There are some signs that the sales decline may have reached bottom in the last few weeks and the industry is now experiencing some slow improvement.
  • Comp sales for the industry were -62.3% for the week ending April 5, which represented a small 4.7 percentage point improvement from last week’s results.
  • The pattern of diverging trends in guest check growth continues. Average guest check for limited service brands continues to grow rapidly year over year, while guest checks for full-service brands are experiencing a sharp drop.
  • The biggest declines in comp sales continue to be in fine dining and family dining; both segments experienced comp sales declines worse than -80% during the week.
  • The late night and lunch day parts experienced the biggest declines in comp sales this week (both worse than -80%). The only day part with comp sales better than -70% was mid-afternoon (-64.7%).
  • Pizza concepts continue to experience the smallest decline in comp sales, but there is an encouraging sign in the fact that all cuisine types tracked by Black Box Intelligence had comp sales declining at a lower pace during the last week.

Consumer Trends
Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence

  • Consumers allocated 78% of their food spend towards grocery stores last week, up from 66% in January.
  • Full-service restaurants received only 3.3% of consumer food spend, down from 10% in January.
  • Share of food spend at limited-service restaurants was 16.5% for the prior week compared to 22% in January.
  • There is starting to be some consistency in grocery sales data with year-over-year growth of 16.6% for the most recent week.
  • The average transaction amount for consumers ordering from full-service restaurants on third party delivery (3PD) is up 19.2% compared to the same week last year.
  • There were twice as many consumers ordering from full-service restaurants through 3PD compared to the same week last year.

Workforce Trends
Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

  • Most companies (67%) have put some of their employees on furlough in response to COVID-19; the percentage that have laid-off employees is much lower at 22%.
  • The percentage of restaurant companies that now offer paid sick leave for their hourly employees increased to 67%; the percentage is even higher for restaurant managers.
  • On average, companies that are offering extended benefits to their separated employees are providing an additional 8 weeks of health benefit coverage. Free or discounted meals are extended for 9-10 weeks at the time of separation.
  • Almost half of companies have cut base pay of their executives in response to the business downturn caused by the pandemic.

Key Insights – April 9, 2020

 

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence

Week ending March 27, 2020

  • The week ending 3/27 was the second to show the impact of COVID-19 shelter-in-place and stay-at-home restrictions on a wide, national scale. Comp sales dropped by more than 60% for the industry, representing a 2.1 percentage point decline from the previous week.
  • The ability to fare better has been linked mostly to the strength of off-premise business before the pandemic hit, followed by the ability to quickly pivot to ramp up those off-premise offerings in recent weeks.
  • For full service restaurants, checks are declining rapidly: average guest checks changed by -43% for fine dining, -7.3% for family dining, and -6.6% for casual dining.
  • As usual routines got increasingly disrupted, the breakfast daypart saw a significant drop in sales during the week. Breakfast comp sales were -80%, which represented a 19 percentage point drop in performance from the previous week.
  • Pizza concepts are holding up the best in the current environment, down 15% in comp sales, followed by Chicken and Hamburger (-30% to -32%). Performance across all cuisine types vary widely, with bottom performers within the Breakfast-centric concepts and Bar & Grill declining -83% and -74%, respectively.

Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence

Week ending March 27, 2020

  • Grocery sales are starting to stabilize with YoY growth for the recent week at +15.5%. Last week grocery sales growth was +73.6%, likely the effect of consumers stocking up on supplies for upcoming days and weeks. Online grocery sales growth remains high for the current week, up +62.3%.
  • Limited-service restaurants experienced an increase in share of consumer food spend by 3% week over week, as grocery stores saw a 2% pullback and full-service lost another 1%.
  • While restaurant spend continues to decline for all age cohorts, the average restaurant is seeing a larger mix of spend coming from Millennials and Gen Z consumers than it did a year ago.
  • 72% of consumers who were dining weekly at full-service restaurants in early 2020 stopped spending at full-service restaurants during the week. Similarly, limited-service restaurants lost 35% of their regular weekly guests.
  • High-frequency spenders still exist among the consumers that have not eliminated their restaurant spend. Of those consumers that spent any money on restaurants during the week, 39% made at least 5 or more restaurant transactions during the period.

Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence

Week ending April 5, 2020

  • Conversation around delivery and takeout on social media has fallen over the last 2 weeks with 15% fewer off-premise mentions in the week ending 4/5 than when it had spiked for the week ending 3/22.
  • For 2 consecutive weeks, guest satisfaction for takeout has grown more positive while delivery satisfaction has become more negative.

Key Insights – April 1, 2020

Black Box Intelligence clients are able to access a full report about the impact of Coronavirus on the restaurant industry. Financial Intelligence clients can find the report in the download section of their dashboard. Workforce Intelligence clients can download the report in the resource section of their Electronic Filing Cabinet (EFC).

To participate in the Sales and Traffic Tracker, please email marketing@blackboxintelligence.com (this is for restaurant operators only).

  • YOY Guest check growth for the industry slowed to 0.5% during week-ending 3/22, after averaging
    +2.5% for the previous 4 weeks. *
  • Most full-service restaurants were able to increase off-premise sales, but the offset of lost dine-in sales is
    low. *
  • Mid-afternoon sales daypart is holding up the best; late night is the worst. *
  • Full-service in all states posted comp sales growth of -60% or below. Limited service had a wider range
    in comp sales performance. *
    Grocery sales are up 73% compared to the same week last year. **
  • Consumer share of stomach spend at full-service restaurants fell below 5%. **
  • Consumer visits are declining for restaurants and increasing for all forms of grocery stores. **
  • Consumers with higher income have reported the greatest declines in restaurant spending. **
  • Gen-Z YoY restaurant spend is down -22% compared to Baby Boomers (ages 65+) spend, down -43%. **
  • Off-premise guest sentiment 3x more positive in March for full-service restaurants (compared to
    February). ***
  • Takeout net sentiment jumps to 11.6 after months of negative scores. ***
  • Restaurants that promoted #TheGreatAmericanTakeout campaign on March 24th received 3x the
    amount of chatter and 2x higher net sentiment scores. ***

* Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
** Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
*** Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence

Key Insights – March 25, 2020

Black Box Intelligence clients are able to access a full report about the impact of Coronavirus on the restaurant industry. Financial Intelligence clients can find the report in the download section of their dashboard. Workforce Intelligence clients can download the report in the resource section of their Electronic Filing Cabinet (EFC).

To participate in the Daily Sales and Traffic Tracker, please email marketing@blackboxintelligence.com (this is for restaurant operators only).

  • Black Box Intelligence™ Daily Tracker points towards restaurant comp sales declining rapidly at national level over the last week.*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Off-premise sales reached over +60% growth year over year for full service brands and almost 30% for limited service brands as of March 23. *
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Consistent with historical trends, satisfaction scores for consumers ordering delivery remain significantly lower than dine-in and takeout sentiment. **
    **Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • Top coronavirus themes in restaurant reviews include (1) guests displaying their support for restaurants during the pandemic and (2) people using it as a platform to voice their opinion on restaurant staffing decisions. **
    **Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • Grocery sales are up 52.9% compared to the same week last year. ***
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Consumers shifted 10% of their share-of-stomach spend away from restaurants to groceries, ***
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence

Key Insights – March 17, 2020

Black Box Intelligence clients are able to access an expanded, 7-page report about the impact of Coronavirus on the restaurant industry. Financial Intelligence clients can find the report in the download section of their dashboard. Workforce Intelligence clients can download the report in the resource section of their Electronic Filing Cabinet (EFC).

  • Comp traffic declines continue to be worse for full service (-3.7%) than for limited service restaurants –3.1%) for the week ending March 8th.*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Outbreak centers, major tourist and convention destinations suffer large traffic declines. Seattle’s comp traffic was –10.4% for the week (three times worse than the national average).*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • In Seattle, comp dine-in traffic was -10.2% (8.5 percentage points lower than the previous week). Comp traffic fell by 30% at fine dining and upscale casual concepts.*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Consumer interest in COVID-19 continues rising rapidly according to Google searches. Online mentions related to restaurants are following the same growth pattern; 72% of online restaurant reviews containing “coronavirus” were posted in the last seven days (3/9-3/15).**
    **Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • Upscale casual & fine dining chains seem to be adapting their practices to the COVID-19 challenge better than others according to guest feedback. These segments have the most positive sentiment when guests mention “coronavirus.”**
    **Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • As restaurants shift to off-premise sales, third-party delivery may prove challenging given the very low adoption rates by consumers, especially those in older demographics. Only 4% of all consumers 18-24 years old placed a third-party delivery order the week ending 3/6; the percentage was less than 1% for those 55 and older.***
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Consumers are continuing to shift food spend to grocery. Consumers decreased their share of food spend at restaurants by 2.8% nationally and by 5.7% in Seattle during the first week in March.***
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Most companies already planning for restaurant closures. 60% of restaurant companies had already established contingency plans for closures as early as March 13.
    Source: Black Box Intelligence™
  • Enhancing sanitation procedures and implementing protocols for employees exposed to virus are the most common measures restaurants are focusing on regarding employee practices and procedures.
    Source: Black Box Intelligence™
  • Staffing difficulties for restaurants are increasing as a result of the outbreak. About a third of restaurants were already experiencing increased staffing challenges as of March 14.
    Source:
    Black Box Intelligence™
  • Most companies have paid sick leave policies for their restaurant managers but not their restaurant hourly employees.
    Source:
    Black Box Intelligence™

COVID-19 Deep Dive – Operator Survey – March 13, 2020

Last week over 200 operators responded to a survey on the Coronavirus outbreak and its initial impact on the restaurant industry. Key high-level findings can be found below, to request a complete copy of the results, email marketing@blackboxintelligence.com.

Key Insights

  • Almost 70% of restaurant companies had experienced a drop in traffic as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Restaurants most negatively impacted were those in upscale casual and fine dining; 85% of restaurant companies in this segment reported experiencing a decline in traffic.
  • About a third of companies first perceived a drop in their traffic as a result of the outbreak during the week of March 7. About a third of restaurant companies first experienced the decline in traffic a week later (week of March 14).
  • By March 13, the industry was not yet foreseeing a dramatic drop in their traffic. Half of companies said they
    expected the future traffic decline as a result of COVID-19 to be less than 10%.
  • The most commonly implemented measure or procedure in response to the outbreak has been enhancing sanitization protocols (96% of companies have implemented this measure), followed by implementing protocols for employees who have been ill or exposed to the virus to return to work (78% of respondents) and training employees on dealing with potentially ill customers (55% of respondents).
  • About a third of companies (this was consistent across all segments) reported they were already having additional staffing challenges due to the virus. These included employees calling in sick or not coming to work.
  • By March 13, almost half of restaurant companies responding to the survey said they had already banned or restricted travel for their employees.
  • Although over 80% of restaurant companies have paid sick leave policies restaurant management and corporate staff, about half (41%) offer paid sick leave to their restaurant hourly employees.
  • Many restaurants were already preparing for a potential escalation of the threat the virus poses to the industry. By March 13, 60% of restaurant companies that completed the survey said they had already established contingency plans for potential restaurant closures. However, the percentage of upscale casual and fine dining restaurants with closure contingency plans was the lowest of any segment. Only 33% of restaurants in those segments said they were prepared for restaurant closures.

Coronavirus and the Restaurant Industry:

Key Insights – March 11, 2020

Black Box Intelligence clients are able to access an expanded, 7-page report about the impact of Coronavirus on the restaurant industry. Financial Intelligence clients can find the report in the download section of their dashboard. Workforce Intelligence clients can download the report in the resource section of their Electronic Filing Cabinet (EFC).

  • In the market in which the first major outbreak occurred (Seattle), restaurant sales dropped by 10% during the initial week. However, this only includes a day or two of heightened public awareness. Real impact is expected to be over 20% in lost restaurant sales after one full week.*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Full service restaurants in Washington are seeing the most negative effect in terms of lost sales, especially those that are more upscale.*
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
  • Restaurant spending seems to be shifting away from full service restaurants towards limited service restaurants, at least initially.*** There is also an increase of to-go restaurant sales in the first market affected. Average to-go sales by restaurant location increased by 10.5% in Seattle during the week ending March 1.* These shifts seem to indicate that as concerns for the virus continue to rise, guests will likely favor quicker or off-premise dining experiences versus extended sit-down restaurant meals interacting with servers and sitting among other guests.
    *Source: Black Box Financial Intelligence
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • In Seattle restaurant spending from older guests (65+ years) dropped very significantly compared with their spending in the rest of the country during the week.*** This is the age group whose consumption is likely to be the most affected going forward as well.
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Consumer data shows the categories that saw strong YOY growth in spending at the end of February were online grocery and meal kits.*** This could signal an upcoming trend as consumers shift more of their share-of-stomach spending towards options that allow them to avoid contact with other people while giving them more control over food preparation and hygiene.
    ***Source: Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Restaurant sentiment online is beginning to show heightened attention by guests to coronavirus related to food safety and cleanliness, as well as paying attention to signs of sickness among staff members.**
    **Source: Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • Initial areas of concern for restaurant sales decline due to the outbreak include cities and states with rapidly number of confirmed coronavirus cases, markets that are popular destinations for international travelers, markets that are hosts to large events such as conferences and trade shows.

COVID-19: Looking Ahead

It is hard to predict at this point what will be the pattern and speed of expansion of the coronavirus in the United States and what measures will have to be taken to slow its rate of spreading. These factors will likely have deep implications on restaurant performance during the rest of the year.

In addition to the headwind presented by this potential crisis, at least for the first quarter of the year the industry is experiencing some very favorable weather conditions which have led to very strong same-store sales growth results for the first months of the year. This will probably mask some of the negative effect of the coronavirus in restaurant YOY sales growth in upcoming weeks, at least at the national level.

What is expected for the upcoming weeks is sharp drops in restaurant sales specific to those locations in which major outbreaks occurred by the first week of March. San Francisco is a market where the downturn may be most apparent, particularly in terms of lost sales for full service restaurants.  For those brands strongly positioned in off-premise offerings there may be some uptick in to-go, delivery and drive-thru sales.

Markets in which major events are being cancelled will also experience a sharp decline in their same-store sales and traffic growth (think Austin due to the SXSW cancellation for the beginning of March).

At the national level it will probably take a few weeks before there is a meaningful erosion in restaurant sales, but that could change rapidly if panic accelerates and consumer confidence drops quickly.

Nevertheless, the global slowdown in economic activity, which is causing many economists to revise down their growth estimates for 2020, coupled with the possibility of the coronavirus outbreak directly hurting restaurants on a wider scale present strong concerns in an industry that continues to struggle with declining guest counts. In this new landscape, flat same-store sales for the year may be the new best-case scenario and declining sales a likely outcome.

Stay Tuned for Weekly Coronavirus Updates

Black Box Intelligence will continue to monitor the impact of coronavirus on the restaurant industry on a weekly basis. Check this page for updates as the situation evolves.

 

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Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

January 5, 2022

 

Restaurant Sales Growth Negative for First Time Since Mid-March   

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending December 26, 2021

 

  • Restaurant sales growth experienced a sharp downturn during the week of Christmas, but this was affected by the holiday falling during the weekend. Christmas fell on a Wednesday during the comparable week in 2019.  
  • Beyond the effect of the calendar shift, there was some pullback from consumers likely in response to heightened concerns from the spike in cases of Covid driven by the new Omicron variant. 
  • Sales growth was negative for the first time since the week ending March 14. It was also the worst week for restaurant traffic during the same period. 
  • Learn how you can improve results & outperform the competition with sales & traffic insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence 
  • Sales growth declined for all full-service segments compared to the previous week. The biggest drops were in casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining. Fast casual experienced a strong improvement in sales growth, while quick service only experienced a slight increase. 
  • The downturn in sales growth was widespread throughout the country, with 24 states plus the District of Columbia posting negative sales growth during the week. Only four states had negative sales growth the previous week. 
  • Sales growth performance worsened during the week in all regions of the country. The top performers were the Southeast, Texas, Southwest and Mountain Plains. 
  • The worst performing regions were New England, New York-New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

 

 

Minimum Wage Increasing in Many States, Market Conditions Pushing Restaurant Wages Further  

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • Minimum wages increased in 21 states as of the beginning of 2022. This could create some concern for restaurants, particularly those in limited-service segments given the pressure it can put on labor costs. Half of the states in the country are scheduled to increase their minimum wage at some point this year. 
  • Market conditions have been driving historically high increases in limited-service hourly wages going back through most of 2021, as restaurant companies had to increase their pay offerings to attract and retain increasingly scarce talent. As of October, hourly wages for limited-service restaurants accelerating again and posted year-over-year growth well into double digits.  
  • Employee expectations have changed, particularly regarding wages and scheduling. Read Why the Restaurant Staffing Shortage is Becoming a Bigger Issue. 
  • Analyzing the data at the state level for limited-service restaurants revealed that 19 of the top 20 states that had the biggest year-over-year increases raised median pay in October to levels that were already higher than the minimum wage as of January of 2022. The only exception (Virginia) increased median pay to what would become the new minimum wage as of January. 
  • Six of the seven states with the highest year-over-year increase in hourly wages for limited-service team members in October (Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Missouri) saw raises averaging almost 20% even though all of them were scheduled for minimum wage increases in 2022. 

Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

 

December 14, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales See Strong Start to December  

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending December 5, 2021

 

  • Despite sales growth results that were 2.0 percentage points lower than the strongest week in November, the first week of December posted stronger sales growth than the monthly sales growth reported for August, September and October. 
  • Year-over-year average check grew by 7.0% during the week. The segments with the largest year-over-year check growth were fine dining, family dining and fast casual. At 6.2%, casual dining was the segment with smallest check growth during the week. 
  • Learn how you can improve results & outperform the competition with sales & traffic insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence 
  • Dine-in sales are far from recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Limited-service restaurants are still experiencing much steeper losses than those in full-service. In full-service, the loss in alcoholic beverage sales during the week was proportional to the decline in dine-in sales. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest and Western regions had the strongest sales growth during the week. The regions with weakest sales growth were the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New York-New Jersey. 

 

Technology can be a game-changer for restaurants, impacting the guest experience, employee workflows and your bottom line. To help you navigate all of your options, read Trending Technology in Restaurants. 

 

Speed of Service & Attentiveness Key Drivers for Better Food Quality Sentiment  

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • In Q3, quarter-over-quarter traffic growth eased. As restaurant teams got a chance to catch their breath, add some staff to their payrolls and get back to basics, Black Box Intelligence™ identified a new connection in guests’ commentary. 
  • In full-service restaurant reviews, when ‘Speed of Service’ and ‘Attentiveness’ net sentiment improves, often times perception of ‘Food Quality’ improves as well. When positive review chatter around “fast,” “quick” and “prompt” (Service Speed), coincides with more positive mentions of “attentive”, “refills”, and “checking back” (Service Attentive) positive mentions of “fresh” as in food was “hot and fresh” trend higher in reviews (Food Quality). 

 

Understanding broader trends in the industry can help you prepare your restaurant reputation management strategy which is essential to retaining your employees and attracting new ones. Sign up for the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot to receive up-to-date insights on what restaurant consumers are saying.  

 

REVIEW VERBATIMS 

          “…She sat me right away took my order within -2- minutes and I had my food within -7- minutes! Food was hot and fresh and delicious.” 

          “Great tasting fresh food. Reasonable prices. Wonderful and speedy service.” 

          “They were short on staff, but the manager stepped in to help. We had hot, fresh food. Server and manager were friendly and checked on us several times.” 

 

Black Friday Restaurant Sales Eclipsed Pre-Pandemic Levels 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Black Friday spend at restaurants modestly eclipsed pre-pandemic sales from 2019. The gain was driven by the limited-service segment, which grew mid-single digits, overcoming the high-single digit decline at full-service restaurants. 
  • At limited-service restaurants, all age brackets increased their spend vs. 2019, except for the 65+ cohort. The strongest gain came from 18-24 year-olds, with spend up double digits. 
  • The 18-24 year-olds also spent more at full-service restaurants on Black Friday than two years ago. However, all other age cohorts spent less, except for the 35-44 cohort, which managed a small gain of less than 1%. Like limited-service, the 65+ cohort spent the least, down over 25% from the 2019 level. 
  • Restaurants use consumer data to track guest frequency and guest habits. Read How Tropical Smoothie Uses Consumer Intelligence to Identify New Opportunities 

Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

 

December 8, 2021

 

 

Soft Restaurant Sales and Traffic Growth Thanksgiving Week

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending November 28, 2021

 

  • Year-over-year growth in average check increased again, with the largest increase in check since the last week of March.
  • All segments experienced a slowdown in sales growth rates compared to the previous week. The biggest drops in sales growth were in fast casual, quick service and fine dining. Still, despite the decline in sales growth, all segments except for family dining posted positive sales growth.
  • Dinner sales growth softened by 1.5% compared to the previous week’s rate, while lunch growth fell by 1.0%. Much bigger drops were seen in breakfast, mid-afternoon and late-night.
  • California, Florida, Mountain Plains and New England were the best performing regions. The regions with the lowest sales growth were the Southwest, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas.
  • The rise of restaurant delivery is one of the most sweeping changes brought about by the pandemic. Read Delivery for Restaurants: What Operators Need to Know Now

 

Repeat Visits More Common in Limited-Service

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Based on consumer credit and debit card data over the last three years, it’s more common for restaurant guests to visit multiple times per day within the limited-service segment, as would be expected given the segment’s greater market saturation in terms of units, lower price points and being better positioned for off-premise (e.g., drive-thru) than their full-service counterparts.
  • On average, roughly 1 in 7 individuals order at limited-service restaurants twice or more times per day, and 2% of individuals frequent three times or more. Multiple daily visits occur more often on Fridays and less often on Sundays. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean these repeat guests are having two or more full meals there. Given the nature of many limited-service brands, in some cases these visits could represent picking up some coffee or a sweet treat as part of their daily routines.
  • When consumers eat at full-service restaurants, less than 1 in 20 individuals eat within the segment more than once per day, and multiple daily visits occur more often on the weekends, with Saturdays edging out Sunday for most often.
  • Restaurants use consumer data to track guest frequency and guest habits. Read How Tropical Smoothie Uses Consumer Intelligence to Identify New Opportunities

 

 

December 1, 2021

 

 

Holiday Season Starts Strong for Restaurants with Best Sales Growth Since Mid-July 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending November 21, 2021

 

  • Sales growth for the week ending November 21st was the strongest since the week ending July 18. It was the second consecutive week of sales growth above 9.0%.  
  • The latest sales results show all segments with positive sales growth, indicating a strong start to the holiday season. 
  • Traffic growth continues to be negative and fell slightly compared to last week. 
  • Customers say a discount or deal would make them more likely to eat out. Read How to Increase Restaurant Sales and Traffic Using Customer Incentives for tips on getting more guests in your restaurants and boosting sales and traffic. 
  • Average check continues growing at an alarmingly high rate. Check growth year over year was the highest recorded since the beginning of April. Fast casual, fine dining and family dining are experiencing the largest YOY growth. 
  • For the last two weeks, upscale casual joined fine dining as the only two segments with positive growth in dine-in sales.  
  • The best performing regions of the country based on sales growth were the Southeast, Western, Florida and New England. 
  • The regions with the weakest sales growth were the Midwest, New York-New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic and California. 

 

More Teenagers Employed by Restaurants in 2021 

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • At the close of Q3, restaurants have not returned to their pre-pandemic staffing levels. The shifts that occurred because of the pandemic and staffing shortage seem to not only have affected the number of available employees but also had an interesting impact on teenage employment in restaurants.  
  • Teenagers have commonly made up a considerable portion of the limited-service workforce. 17% of all their hourly, non-management employees were 18 years or younger in age in 2019. The percentage grew to 24% as of the end of Q3 2021.  
  • The 25- to 34-year-old age group had the biggest reduction in its share of limited-service employees. 
  • In full-service restaurants a similar shift was also observed. The percentage of hourly, non-management employees 18 years old or younger was 4.6% in 2019. In Q3 of 2021 the percentage increased to 7.2% year to date. 
  • The 25- to 34-year-old age group had the biggest reduction in its share of full-service employees. 

November 17, 2021

 

 

Check Average Growing Fastest Since April Amid Sales Rebound 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending November 7, 2021

 

  • After the downturn in restaurant sales last week, the industry was able to rebound in sales growth. Sales growth for the week was 0.6 percentage points stronger than the average for the previous 6 weeks. 
  • Average guest check continues to accelerate and remains a concern for ongoing traffic recovery. Guest year-over-year growth was at its highest since mid-April.  
  • Customers say a discount or deal would make them more likely to eat out. Read How to Increase Restaurant Sales and Traffic Using Customer Incentives for tips on getting more guests in your restaurants and boosting sales and traffic. 
  • Family dining, fast casual and fine dining experienced the largest year-over-year growth in their average checks during the week (as well as over the last 3 weeks).  
  • 46 states posted positive sales growth during the week. The only states with negative sales growth were Oregon, Wisconsin, Hawaii and North Dakota.  
  • The best performing regions of the country based on sales growth were the Southeast, Southwest, Florida and Texas.  
  • The weakest sales growth regions were California, New York-New Jersey, New England and the Midwest. 

 

Staffing Levels Are Worsening, Despite Raising Wages 

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • In response to the staffing crisis, restaurants have increasingly raised their starting wages to attract and retain more employees. Despite these efforts, the latest data shows staffing levels are actually deteriorating. 
  • Take control of your staffing and don’t let talent go to your competition. Get access to BBI’s Workforce Intelligence dataset and get the data you need to be competitive in this challenging labor environment. 
  • Limited-service restaurants have been operating at lower staffing levels than they did before the pandemic. Exacerbating the challenge, limited-service brands operated with an average of 0.6 fewer hourly employees in September than the period between June and August. 
  • For full-service, staffing levels in September were the worst numbers per location since June for both front-of-house and back-of-house employees. Staffing gaps versus the pre-COVID norm continue to be much deeper for full-service restaurants, with the front-of-house experiencing the biggest shortcomings.  

 

Speed of Service Guest Sentiment Falling, Worse in Limited-Service 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Staffing challenges continue to complicate restaurant execution. Guests are feeling the effects of understaffing in restaurants, as evident by guest sentiment around ‘speed of service’. 
  • The decline in ‘speed of service’ sentiment is worse among limited-service restaurants than for those in full-service. 
  • Restaurant reputation management is essential to retaining your current customers and retaining new ones. Read our latest article, Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management 

 

 

November 10, 2021

 

 

Halloween May Be to Blame for Another Sales & Traffic Stumble in Restaurants

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 31, 2021

 

  • Restaurant sales and traffic had a sharp decline in growth this week, most likely due to the Halloween holiday falling on a Sunday. In 2019 the holiday fell on a Thursday.
  • All industry segments posted a drop in sales growth during the week. The biggest drops were in casual dining and upscale casual which presumably were hurt the most by lost dinner sales due to Halloween falling during the weekend this year.
  • All U.S. regions are still seeing positive sales growth despite a decline in growth rate this week.
  • The regions with the best sales growth were Western, Florida, Mountain Plains and the Southeast.
  • The weakest regions were New York-New Jersey, New England, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest.

 

‘Food Preparation’ Sentiment Weakens in Full-Service Amidst Turnover Increases

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ and Black Box Guest Intelligence ™

 

  • Restaurants have struggled with declining quarter-over-quarter food guest sentiment in 2021. Data supports that ‘food preparation’ sentiment has fallen every quarter this year; and rising turnover may be partly to blame.
  • Since Q1 of 2021, full-service ‘food preparation’ net sentiment turned negative, meaning that when guests mentioned associated terms in their online reviews, there has been a larger percentage of negative comments than positive ones.
  • By Q3, ‘food preparation’ sentiment was over 5% lower than it was at the end of 2019.
  • Steak temperatures like “medium”, “rare”, “overcooked”, “burned”, “fried”, “grilled” or “undercooked” are mentioned most frequently by guests.
  • Restaurant reputation management is essential to retaining your current customers and retaining new ones. Read our latest article, Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management
  • During the last two quarters, there has been a spike in turnover for hourly back-of-house employees in full-service restaurants. In Q3, back-of-house turnover was over 7% higher than it was in Q4 of 2019. Having more newer employees in the kitchen, some of which may still be in training and are not as familiar with the recipes and processes, is likely one of the factors directly influencing the faltering food preparation scores.

 

Hispanic Share of Restaurant Spend on the Rise

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • The share of restaurant spending by minority groups is growing coming out of the pandemic. Hispanics have gained the most share.
  • The share of spending by Hispanics at restaurants is now higher than it was pre-pandemic and both full and limited-service restaurants are seeing this increase.
  • Are you tracking share of stomach, share of wallet or share of market? Read Share of Stomach – Everything Restaurants Need to Know About This Important Competitive Intelligence Metric
  • However, since Q2 2020, the share of Hispanic spending in full-service restaurants has grown at a faster clip and is now higher than in limited-service. Two-year growth in Hispanic spending in full-service has been positive the last two quarters, while spending by Caucasians remains down versus Q2 and Q3 of 2019.
  • Two-year spend growth for Hispanics at limited-service restaurants was up double digits and outpaced all other ethnicities over the past two quarters.

 

 

November 3, 2021

 

 

Best Sales and Traffic Results for Restaurants Since July 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 24, 2021

 

  • This week, the industry posted its best sales and traffic growth rates since the 3rd week of July.  
  • Check experienced the highest year-over-year growth recorded since mid-April. Rapid increase in average guest checks continues to lift the industry sales but is also a barrier for full traffic recovery.  
  • All segments, except for fine dining, improved their sales growth compared to the previous week. Casual dining and quick service improved the most during the week.  
  • Dive deeper into the state of the quick service segment with our newest research: How Quick Service is Outpacing the Restaurant Industry in Sales & TrafficClick here for the free download. 
  • This is the first time since July that 48 or more states posted positive sales growth. The only states with negative growth were Wyoming and Hawaii. 

David Cantu joins Black Box Intelligence as CEO – read the full press release here. 

 

Full-Service: Hourly and Management Turnover Continues to Fuel the Staffing Crisis  

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  • As of August, hourly turnover increased by 6 percentage points compared to June. Furthermore, turnover for full-service restaurants increased by double-digits compared to 2019. A big driver behind the staffing crisis continues to be the loss of restaurant employees at an alarmingly high rate. 
  • Management turnover in full-service restaurants has increased during the last two quarters. However, it remains below its 2019 levels, which suggests things could still get worse for these industry segments. Click here to see how Workforce Intelligence™ can help you compare your turnover levels with the rest of the industry. 
  • The states with the highest hourly turnover for full-service restaurant brands are Mississippi, Maine, Alabama, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Tennessee. 
  • The states with lowest hourly turnover rates are Nevada, Hawaii, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and Colorado. 

 

Limited-ServiceGuest Sentiment Continued to Erode in Q3 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

  • For the second consecutive quarter, guest sentiment declined for all major attributes of the restaurant experience* compared to the previous quarter.  
  • Apart from ‘intent on return’, which is a metric that, in a way, is a sum of the outcome of all others, ‘food’ experienced the biggest fall in guest sentiment during the 3rd quarter. Complaints from guests of limited-service brands commonly included portion sizes (perhaps an outcome of the soaring prices which increased expectations) and dissatisfaction with fries.  
  • The attribute with the 2nd largest decline during the quarter was ‘service’. Additionally, except for ‘value’, ‘service’ had the lowest net sentiment score during the quarter for limited-service brands. 

Using Guest Intelligence for Effective Restaurant Reputation Management. Read the latest blog here. 

*Main attributes: food, beverage, service, ambiance, value and intent on return. 

 

October 27, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Post Strongest Results in 4 Weeks

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 17, 2021

 

  • The industry had a strong rebound in sales and traffic growth and the week ending October 17 posted the strongest results in 4 weeks.  
  • Year-over-year check growth was 5.7% during the week, the highest growth recorded since mid-April. Check has grown at 5.0% or more during each of the last 7 weeks.  
  • Only fine dining did improve in sales growth. QSR, fast casual and casual dining improved the most (improved sales growth by 1.9 percentage points or more during the week).  
  • Dive deeper into the state of the quick service segment with our newest research: How Quick Service is Outpacing the Restaurant Industry in Sales & TrafficClick here for the free download. 
  • Only 9 states had negative sales growth during the week: Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming and Hawaii. 

 

Full-Service: Service Guest Sentiment Improved in Q3

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence
 
  • Hourly turnover rose rapidly in the last three quarters for limited-service restaurants. By August 2021, the rolling 12-month hourly turnover rate was an alarming 19 percentage points higher than it was in 2019. 
  • Not only is turnover rising for all employees, the percentage of new hires that leave the company within the first 90 days of employment is also increasing. Is your turnover better than your competitors? Click here to see how Workforce Intelligence™ can help you. 
  • Hourly turnover for limited-service restaurants continues to trend higher in the southeastern corner of the country. The states with highest hourly turnover are Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. 

 

Grocery Share of Wallet Has Returned to Pre-COVID Levels 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
  • The 2nd quarter was especially challenging for restaurants. In full-service brands, guest sentiment fell across the board for all main categories tracked compared to sentiment during the 1st quarter. Guest Intelligence tracks 6 main categories ‘food’, ‘beverage’, ‘service’, ‘ambiance’, ‘value’ and ‘intent on return’. Click here for more details. 
  • Full-service restaurants improved ‘service’ net sentiment during the 3rd quarter compared to 2nd quarter scores. ‘Beverage’ sentiment remained essentially flat quarter over quarter in Q3. 
  • Full-service restaurants experienced an erosion in net sentiment for ‘food’, ‘ambiance’, ‘value’ and ‘intent on return’ during the quarter. The biggest drop in net sentiment occurred in restaurant ‘ambiance’, followed by ‘food’. 

*Main categories: food, beverage, service, ambiance, value and intent on return. 

 

October 19, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Fell to New 3-Month Low 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 10, 2021

 

  • The slowdown for restaurant sales and traffic continued for the 3rd consecutive week, the weakest since mid-June.  
  • The decline in sales growth for the week was driven primarily by a decline in sales growth in family dining. Sales growth in fine dining and upscale casual also eroded during the week.  
  • Quick service was the only segment that improved sales growth during the week. Fast casual and casual dining sales remained flat compared to the previous week. 
  • How are your sales stacking up to your competitors, your region and your segment? Sign up for a demo of Black Box Financial Intelligence™.  
  • After 5 weeks of positive sales growth for all U.S. regions, New England and New York-New Jersey fell into negative territory during the week. California was the region with the biggest decline in its sales growth during the week was California. 
  • The best performing regions of the country during the week were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Western region (which excludes California). 

 

Staffing Still Plagues Restaurants, Significant Jump in Hourly Turnover  

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence
 
  • Staffing is still an issue for restaurants across the U.S. and across all segments. Lately, there have been small improvements in full-service brands. 
  • There was a significant jump in hourly turnover in August. After a small improvement in July, August numbers reverted to align more with what we saw in June. 
  • Top 5 things restaurant employees look for in a new job: Starting hourly wage, Promotion Opportunities, Flexible Schedules, Health Benefits & Paid Time Off and Company Culture/Work Environment. Check out the full “The Post Pandemic Restaurant Employee” whitepaper here. 

 

 

Grocery Share of Wallet Has Returned to Pre-COVID Levels 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
  • During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer behaviors and spending changed. Grocery was one of the greatest beneficiaries in terms of share of wallet gains, along with online retail and home and garden. 
  • As of Q3, roughly two quarters past the broad vaccine rollout, grocery share of wallet returned to pre-COVID levels (2019), losing share mostly to full-service restaurants, but to limited-service restaurants as well.  
  • Since the fully vaccinated rate broke through 15% (early April), limited-service restaurants have captured slightly more share of wallet. 
  • While limited-service restaurants have been a clear beneficiary of pandemic-driven consumer behaviors changes, the biggest share takers, as of Q3 2021, are online retail as well as pet products and services. Since early April 2021, online retail lost some of its share gains, while pet products and services remained flat. 

Share of Stomach – Everything Restaurants Need to Know About This Important Competitive Intelligence Metric. Check our latest post here! 

 

 

October 13, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Fell to New 3-Month Low 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending October 3, 2021

 

  • Sales and traffic growth for the week ending October 3rd were the weakest since mid-June. 
  • Is your traffic better than your competitors? Sign up for a demo of Black Box Financial Intelligence™ to compare your performance to your competition. See sales and traffic by segment, region, cuisine and more. Click here to sign up for a demo. 
  • Sales growth for all segments except for fine dining deteriorated during the last 2 weeks in September compared with the first 3 weeks of the month*. The slowdown in sales growth was driven primarily by family dining and quick service. 
  • Dine-in sales growth is negative for all industry segments except fine dining. Quick service, fast casual and fine dining improved in their dine-in sales growth during the last 2 weeks of the month. 
  • A decline in off-premise contributed to the slowdown in sales for limited-service brands over the last 3 weeks. For full-service restaurants, off-premise sales growth has been trending down since mid-August. Nonetheless, it is still extremely high. 
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Florida, California and Texas.  
  • The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, New England, the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. 

* September has 5 weeks according to our reporting convention 

 

 

Full-Service Restaurants, Travel and Recreation Among Most Improved Industries  

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence
 
  • Consumer behavior and spending have changed since the COVID-19 vaccine became broadly available. As of Q3 2021, the industries that experienced the largest pullbacks in spend levels compared to their pre-vaccine share of wallet percentages* are grocery, discount/club stores and online retail.  
  • The industries that have seen the greatest rebound in spend are travel, convenience/drug/diet, ground transportation, leisure & recreation and full-service restaurants. However, leisure & recreation, department stores, full-service restaurants and travel remain the hardest hit relative to pre-COVID share of wallet levels. 
  • Since fully vaccinated rates broke through 15% of the US population in early April, full-service restaurants have recaptured half of its lost share of wallet compared to pre-COVID levels. 

*defined as the 12 months ending March 2021 

 

 

Span of Control for Multi-Unit Managers Increased in Full-Service Restaurants 

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  • Span of control* for multi-unit managers shifted significantly since last March when looking at full vs. limited-service restaurants. 
  • For full-service restaurants, the span of control for multi-unit managers increased. In January of 2020, the median company had their multi-unit managers directly overseeing an average of 7.8 restaurants. By August of 2021 that number increased by one more restaurant. Multi-unit managers in full-service are now responsible for an average 8.8 restaurants each. 
  • Not much changed for limited-service. In January of 2020, a multi-unit manager was assigned to 7.5 restaurants, on average. In August of 2021, that number reduced slightly to an average 7.3 restaurants under each multi-unit manager’s supervision. 

*those people directly managing multiple general managers of individual restaurants. 

October 6, 2021

Voice of the Operator – New COVID Vaccine Regulations 

Powered by survey data from 100+ restaurant companies, download the full results here. 

 

  • While most respondents said they do not agree with the new mandates to require vaccinations of employees or weekly negative COVID results, the percentage of those in favor of the new regulations was higher for limited service brands.  
  • Most companies have not finalized their go-forward plans on how they will approach the new requirements. 9% of companies responding said they have decided that they will require vaccines for all staff.  
  • 14% of operators believe that traffic will increase as a result of the regulations, 9% believe that sales will increase. Most respondents believe that the guest experience will also improve. 

Vaccine Mentions in Restaurant Reviews Peaked in May, Sentiment Has Shifted 

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Sentiment and tone of online comments about “vaccines” shifted since the beginning of the year.  

  • January – May 15: For many, getting vaccinated meant getting back to normal and heading back to dine in at restaurants. “So nice to get out with family again” or “Celebrating being fully vaccinated against Covid” are a few examples of popular online comments while dining out.  
  • Mid-May – August 15: Although the CDC made masks optional for those fully vaccinated, some restaurant brands decided to keep their mask policies. This created another round of dissenting views and potential friction for restaurants, from those that were vaccinated “Masks optional if vaccinated was a nice touch!” and “I am vaccinated for COVID-19 and this place is requiring me to use a mask, what a joke… therefore I will go somewhere else.” The frustration and confusion increased with the Delta variant in July and the beginning of August. 
  • August 15 – September:  Chatter shifted due to several states and municipalities mandating vaccine cards to dine indoors “…the girls at the front are amazing, respectful, doing an amazing job especially dealing with not too pleasant customers during this time of showing vaccine cards.” and “they said I needed the physical copy of my vaccine card and wouldn’t let me and my friends in. We all had pictures of our vaccine cards and some of us even had the Excelsior pass but they still wouldn’t let us in.” 

Restaurant Sales and Traffic Post Weakest Results Since June 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 26, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Weekly restaurant sales and traffic growth posted the weakest results since mid-June. Traffic held up a bit better than sales during the week. 
  • The decline in sales growth was driven by a slowdown in sales for family dining, casual dining and quick service (which had the biggest growth rate decline). 
  • All industry segments, except for family dining, achieved positive comp sales during the week. The top performing segments were fine dining, fast casual and quick service. 
  • 44 states and the District of Columbia saw a decline in sales growth. The only states that improved sales growth were Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Alaska and Ohio. 
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Western region.  
  • The worst performing regions were New York-New Jersey, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southwest. 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

September 29, 2021


Check Growth Rate Hits New Record  

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 19, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Three weeks into September restaurant sales growth remains stronger than it was in August. However, the industry is still not seeing sales growth as strong as July, the best month for sales growth in over a decade. 
  • 2-year check growth rates from the last two weeks are the highest ever recorded.  
  • While dine-in sales are negative for full- and limited- service, dine-in sales losses are much larger for limited-service restaurants. 
  • Sales growth for all dayparts improved compared to August. Mid-afternoon is the top performing daypart, followed by dinner and lunch. Although still underperforming the rest, late-night is on path to achieving its first month of sales growth since January of 2020. 
  • The top performing regions were the Southeast, Texas, Western region* and Florida.  
  • The worst performing regions were the Midwest, New York-New Jersey, the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic. 

*western region does not include California 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

 

Restaurants Paying More to Overcome Staffing Shortages  

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • Download the State of the Restaurant Workforce report for the latest data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ including highlights from the annual Total Rewards Survey and our latest joint research with Snagajob, The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who wants to work and why 
  • Hourly wage growth* has increased steadily since the beginning of the year. Wage growth for crew members in limited-service remained flat compared to June, but at a historically high level that shows the push for using higher wages as a resource to attract talent. 
  • In full-service restaurants, wage increases for line cooks have also accelerated in 2021. July data shows the rolling 3-month average rising even further. 
  • While there was no major movement in staffing levels during May and June, restaurants experienced some improvement in July based on the average number of employees per location. 

* Rolling 3-month average year over year 

  

More Guests Mention Understaffed Restaurants in Full-Service 

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  • The number of online mentions of restaurants being short staffed increased steadily since the beginning of the year and peaked in mid-July. The number of “understaffed” mentions remains at high levels near the end of Q3. They eased some in August when traffic softened, but spiked up to near the July peak during the week of Labor Day.  
  • The spike during Labor Day was driven by full-service restaurants. Those in limited-service also experienced increased mentions, but not nearly the same magnitude as full-service. 
  • The largest increase in “short staffed” mentions was in family dining versus the beginning of the year; mentions are running about 30% higher than the industry overall in Q3 to date. Casual dining is also trending about 10% higher than the industry. Limited-service restaurants are trending below these industry changes.   

September 22, 2021


Restaurant
Post Worst Traffic Results Since June
 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 12, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Falling 2.0 percentage points, traffic growth was the most concerning metric during the week and smallest growth rate posted since mid-June. 
  • Average check growth accelerated again, reaching a new record high. 
  • Off-premise sales growth weakened significantly for limited-service brands. There was also a decline in off-premise sales growth for full-service restaurants, although not as sharp as for limited-service. 
  • The only states with negative sales growth this week were New Mexico, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oregon and Hawaii. The District of Columbia also experienced negative sales growth. 

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

 

State of the Restaurant Workforce 

  • A recent report published by Black Box Intelligence™ and Snagajob revealed that most restaurant employees (62%) stated that they have been the subject of emotional abuse or disrespect from guests. 
  • With the number of COVID cases again a concern and restaurant employees being asked to enforce the policies designed to protect the guests and themselves (such as wearing masks and showing proof of vaccination), tensions are escalating and restaurant employees are being put at risk. 
  • Furthermore, the vast majority of restaurant employees remain fearful of COVID and intend to continue to protect themselves. The report showed that 83% of restaurant employees plan to continue to wear masks to keep themselves safe regardless of their employer’s or government requirements. 

Download the State of the Restaurant Workforce report for the latest data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with some highlights from the annual Total Rewards Survey. 

  

Share of Digital Sales Remains High Compared to Pre-Pandemic Norm 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence

 

  • Much has changed in the way consumers order and pay for food over the last two years. The pandemic has been a catalyst for digital (online) food sales compared to traditional offline, in-restaurant ordering and payment. Total digital food sales, which includes online sales through full- and limited- service restaurants, traditional and delivery groceries, as well as meal kits, represented 4% of total sales in 2019. Most recently, digital food sales represent nearly 3x the pre-pandemic mix level.  
  • Digital grocery sales reached a pandemic high share of 6% of total grocery sales, but have since retreated as the US economy reopened and consumers feel more confident to return to restaurant dining rooms and grocery stores. In August, with the delta variant and COVID cases surging, digital grocery sales increased modestly in terms of mix from the previous months. 
  • Limited-service restaurants began the pandemic with a higher mix of digital sales than their full-service and grocery counterparts. Digital sales mix reached a max of 21% of total limited-service sales during the pandemic and remain just off that high water mark. 
  • Full-service restaurant digital sales mix currently tracks in the low double digit range despite the reopening of dining rooms, a significant increase from the sub-4% level before the pandemic.

Learn how you can track your brand’s Share of Stomach with our one-of-a-kind Consumer Intelligence tool.

September 15, 2021

 

Sentiment for Full-Service Improved in August, Limited-Service Experienced a Decline 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Guest sentiment shifted during August compared to July because of the swings in sales and traffic during the month. 
  • Full-service guest sentiment increased slightly and was largely driven by strong improvement in the family dining segment. 
  • Limited-service, however, had a decrease in sentiment with the steepest declines in fast casual. 

For more in-depth analysis on these shifts, check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot. The August publication will be released the afternoon of September 15th. 

 

Share of Stomach Winners: Limited-Service Restaurants and Grocery Delivery

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence

 

  • Limited-service restaurants and grocery delivery continue to hold on to their share of stomach gains captured during the pandemic, taking share from full-service restaurants and traditional grocery.  
  • As the delta variant surges, traditional grocery recaptured share in August, with full and limited-service restaurants garnering less consumer spend.  
  • Combined, grocery delivery and traditional grocery currently represent roughly 1% less of their pre-pandemic share of stomach. Grocery delivery has nearly double its pre-pandemic share, while traditional grocery has lost ground.  
  • As the economy has reopened, full service restaurants made some progress winning back consumers but still trail its pre-pandemic level by 1.5-2.0 percentage points, which is modestly higher than the prior month likely due to a delta variant driven pullback.  

Learn how you can track your brand’s Share of Stomach with our one-of-a-kind Consumer Intelligence tool. 

Strongest Restaurant Sales Results Since July 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending September 5, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

Are you tracking the right metrics to impact your sales and traffic? Read Restaurant Calculations: Financial Metrics Every Restaurateur Should Track to Outperform the Competition 

  • This was the strongest week since the 3rd week of July.  
  • Traffic improved, but growth remains negative. 
  • Casual dining was the only segment not to see an improvement during the week.  
  • Despite an improvement during the week, family dining remains the weakest segment based on sales growth.  
  • Fine dining was the top performing segment, followed by fast casual and quick service. 
  • Off-premise sales growth for limited-service restaurants accelerated during the week. For full-service restaurants, off-premise sales growth remained elevated but flat compared to the previous week. 
  • The effect of hurricane Ida was massive for Louisiana the day it hit the coast (the entire week was down -27% in sales despite the hurricane only affecting the last day of the week). By the following week, although sales growth was still negative, there were some signs of recovery. Sales growth in Louisiana for the week was -8.3%, an improvement of 18 percentage points. 
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were Florida, the Western region, the Southeast and California.  
  • The weakest regions based on sales growth during the week were the Southwest, New York-New Jersey, New England and Mountain Plains. 

September 8, 2021

 

State of the Restaurant Workforce

Powered by the State of the Workforce Webinar Polls 9/2 | 300+ participants

 

  • For the next 6-12 months, 46% of restaurant corporate office staff are expected to work at the office at least 3 days a week. 
  • Only 28% of 300+ operators surveyed on the webinar classify working at the corporate office as “completely voluntary”.  
  • Over 45% of restaurant operators still believe that higher pay in other industries is the main reason for employees leaving the industry. Other reasons included better working hours, company culture and a lack of professional development opportunities. 

Check out the on-demand webinar: State of the Restaurant Workforce HERE!

NOW AVAILABLE: 2021 Total Rewards Survey Report

  • Insights include data on staffing, training, development, D&I, compensation, benefits & more. 
  • Report Highlight: Cost of turnover has increased for general managers. 

  • 100% of participating companies reported being understaffed at the hourly level. 81% reported a shortage of managers and 50% reported being understaffed at the general manager level. 

 

Worst Sales Growth in Over 2 Months Amid COVID Spike and Hurricane Ida

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 29, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Since mid-March, restaurants continue to post stronger sales than they did in 2019. Nonetheless, the industry posted its weakest sales growth since early June in the last week of August. 
  • Sales growth declined by 1.2 percentage points compared to the prior week, which is the largest drop experienced during any of the weeks in August.  
  • 41 states posted positive growth. Sales growth declined for 36 states during the week compared to the previous weekly results.  
  • Louisiana, Wyoming, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Alaska, Oklahoma and Ohio had the biggest drops in sales growth. 
  • As expected, hurricane Ida had a tremendous negative effect on restaurants in Louisiana. Sales growth fell by 30 percentage points in that state compared to the previous week. This drop only reflects Sunday, August 29, the day the storm first hit the coast.  
  • Ida had an impact on Mississippi, although to a smaller degree. Sales growth fell by over 8 percentage points compared to the previous week. 

 

Guests are Missing Restaurant Deals and Coupons by Full-Service Restaurants

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Mentions of specials, deals and coupons by full-service restaurant guests declined compared to pre-pandemic levels, suggesting restaurants are offering fewer discounts. The reduction in these types of discounts is likely contributing to pushing up average check levels.  
  • Happy hour and lunch specials stand out as an area where full-service restaurants might be pulling back. Guest chatter around these specials has dropped noticeably. However, when guests reference lunch specials their ratings tend to be higher. 
  • Coupon usage is another type of discount being mentioned less often. Free coupons are one area mentioned less compared to pre-COVID. 

 

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

September 1, 2021

 

Cash is King: More Financial Incentives Being Offered to Restaurant Hourly Employees

Powered by the 2021 Black Box Intelligence™ Total Rewards Survey Results 
  • Almost 90% of all companies are now offering referral bonuses to their restaurant hourly employees to help improve their staffing. Compared to 2019, the percentage of companies offering these incentives increased by almost 20 percentage points. 
  • The Total Rewards Survey Results revealed a significant increase in the use of spot awards and bonuses for restaurant hourly employees. 
  • The report showed an upswing in the percentage of companies that said they offer flexible scheduling, family/elder care leave and financial planning to their restaurant employees. 
  • Compared to 2019, the average number of sick days offered as paid time off increased by 2.5 times for restaurant hourly employees.
     

Download the full report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob. The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why features exclusive data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with survey results from over 4,700 former, current and future hourly restaurant workers.  

Restaurant Sales Remain Relatively Stable After Some Softening in Previous Weeks

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 15, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Restaurants posted their 24th consecutive week of positive sales growth. Sales growth fluctuated by only 0.3 percentage points during each of the last four weeks. This suggests the industry may have reached some stability despite fears that the sales decline seen during the last week of July could signal a significant downturn due to the new wave of COVID Delta variant cases.  
  • Looking at the 10 states that have the highest number of COVID cases per capita (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and South Carolina) revealed that the spike in the number of cases has not yet created a large erosion in restaurant sales. 6 of the 10 states improved their sales growth during the week by an average of 1.1 percentage points. 
  • For Kentucky, Tennessee, Alaska and Alabama, the 4 hotspot states that saw a decline in their sales performance, the average growth rate decline was -1.6 percentage points. However, even after this slowdown, average same-store sales growth for these 4 states remained positive, averaging 7.3%. 
  • Except for fine dining, dine-in sales growth continues to be negative for all segments. Upscale casual, casual dining and fast casual had some small improvement in their dine-in sales growth during the week. 

 

COVID-related Mentions Increase Among Guests, Mask Mentions Lead the Way 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Mentions of COVID protocols like masks, social distancing and sanitizing have been dropping steadily since early April when vaccinations per day were peaking and the number of new cases was slowing.  However, since mid-July when cases began to rise, so has the number of mentions. Nonetheless, they still are at lower levels as of mid-August compared to where they were during the first months of the year. 
  • As mentions have dropped, net sentiment related to these COVID protocol terms also declined, suggesting those guests bringing them up in reviews are more negative about what they see (and are among those guests most vigilant about how restaurants are handling these protocols).   
  • Mentions of masks are rising at a slightly faster rate than for other COVID protocol-related terms. This may be indicating guests are using masks as a gauge of overall safety. Levels for the number of mask mentions are still half of where they were in the January through April time period.    
  • Positive masks mentions are about staff wearing masks and negative mentions are about masks not being worn by them. To much less extent guests are complaining about being asked to wear them or that other guests are not wearing them.

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

August 25, 2021

 

4 Driving Factors Contributing to the Restaurant Labor Shortage

  • According to a recent report published by Black Box Intelligence™ and Snagajob, there are 4 driving factors contributing to the restaurant staffing shortage: wages and benefits, challenges related to childcare, opportunities in other industries and concerns about physical and mental health. 
  • The survey report revealed that 66% of employees that left the restaurant industry would be willing to return if the right conditions were met. 
  • The 3 main reasons they left the industry were the higher pay offered in other industries, the need for a consistent schedule and income as well as a lack of professional development and promotion opportunities. 
  • The most important things restaurant workers look for in a new job are the starting hourly wage, promotion opportunities and flexible schedules. 
  • Black Box Intelligence is hosting a special State of the Workforce webinar on September 2nd. Sign up to attend or receive access to the on-demand version after the session.

Download the full report by Black Box Intelligence and Snagajob. The Post-Pandemic Restaurant Employee: Who Wants to Work and Why features exclusive data from Black Box Workforce Intelligence combined with survey results from over 4,700 former, current and future hourly restaurant workers.  

Restaurant Sales Weaken Throughout the Country

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 15, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Despite 22 weeks of stronger sales growth compared to the same period in 2019, sales growth is softening and the industry posted the weakest sales growth in the last 9 weeks. Traffic growth also weakened. 
  • 42 states averaged lower sales growth during the first 2 weeks of August compared to the 4 weeks in July. 
  • Rapid rise in new cases may not be the only factor behind the recent softening of restaurant sales since many COVID-19 hotspot states are experiencing an improvement in sales growth in recent weeks.  
  •  Montana, Delaware, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Arkansas, New Mexico, Virginia, Alaska and Alabama saw an increase in their sales growth during the first two weeks of August. 
  •  Hawaii, Vermont, North Dakota, Nevada, Illinois, Louisiana, Washington, Connecticut and Oklahoma experienced the biggest drop in sales growth (5 percentage points or more vs. July) during the first weeks of August. 
  • Dine-in sales growth is negative for all industry segments except for fine dining. 2-year growth for off-premise sales has picked up in recent weeks.  

 

Fewer Guest Mentions of Specials and “Good” Prices, More Mentions of “Not Worth It” Experiences 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Mounting cost pressures from wages to commodities and other expenses are forcing restaurant companies to raise menu prices to cover higher expenses. This has an impact on what guests are saying about “value” in their online restaurant reviews. 
  • Compared to Q2 of 2019, there are fewer guest mentions of “specials” overall, especially at lunch. This may be part of the reason traffic during lunch has not improved at the same pace as it has for dinner. 
  • The largest changes in guest comments are fewer positive mentions of “good” and “reasonable” prices compared to 2019.  
  • For limited-service, “not worth”, “extra charges” and “smaller portions”, are trending higher than in 2019, on top of fewer positive mentions of “reasonable”, “good” or “great” prices.  
  • In full-service restaurants, there are fewer positive mentions around lunch and drink specials, as well as happy hour. Additionally, there are more negative mentions around “not worth it” compared to two years ago.

Check out the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for a monthly update that reveals guest sentiment for the restaurant industry.  

August 18, 2021

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic Slow Again, Signs Point to Delta Variant Impact

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 8, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • While the restaurant industry extended its streak of consecutive positive sales growth weeks to 21, sales and traffic growth trends softened for the fourth week in a row. 
  • Off-premise growth improved compared to last week, while dine-in sales declined; a sign that consumers are reacting to the rapid rise in U.S. COVID cases driven by the delta variant.  
  • Only the fast casual segment improved sales growth compared to last week. 
  • Fine dining had the biggest drop in sales growth compared to the previous week, followed by family dining, which dropped further into negative territory.  
  • Sales growth performance declined for 29 states during the week compared to last week, with 4 states posting negative sales (along with the District of Columbia). Only 1 state fell into negative territory last week. 
  • Zooming in on the southern region, which contains the largest COVID per capita numbers, two states posted weaker sales trends compared to the prior week: Louisiana and Florida. During the week, Louisiana represented one of the largest sequential drops in the country.  

 

As Full-Service Restaurant Transactions Return, Smaller Order Recover Lags Larger Orders 

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  • Full-service restaurant tickets, which include taxes and tip, grew by nearly 20% on a two-year basis as of Q2 2021. Part of this is from higher menu pricing to offset prime cost inflation, but also to fewer small orders as consumers have adjusted patterns due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. 
  • Larger ticket order transactions of $70 or more have exceeded the level two years ago, while small orders (sub $30) remain well below, down nearly -40% as of Q2 2021. Those small orders, representing over 50% of transactions two years ago, currently make up 10 percentage points less of the mix. 
  • The restaurant backdrop improved last quarter as the economy reopened and vaccines increased consumer confidence, helping full-service transactions grow compared to Q1. Nonetheless, smaller order growth continues to lag, increasing at a rate half of larger orders.  
  • Full-service large party orders increased rapidly, up 32% quarter over quarter, as consumer demand for socializing at restaurants was extremely high heading into the quarter and health risk began to fade. However, the share of small order transactions at full-service restaurants, which skews to solo guests, remains displaced. 

As Restaurant Restrictions Lifted in Q2 2021, Special Occasion Mentions and Net Sentiment Improved

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • After being restricted for over a year due to COVID, consumers returned to restaurants in Q2 2021 to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. During this period, special occasion mentions grew threefold compared to two years ago. 
  • Net sentiment around special occasions also increased in Q2 2021 vs. Q2 2019 and was driven by improvements in the positive sentiment.  
  • Last quarter, fine dining had the highest percentage of special occasion mentions, but not the highest net sentiment, that honor went to the upscale casual segment.  
  • Upscale and casual dining saw special occasion net sentiment improve versus Q2 2019, while it fell for fine dining and family dining. 

August 11, 2021

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending August 1, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • The industry posted positive sales growth for its 20th consecutive week. Nonetheless, the week ending August 1st was the worst for the industry in the last seven as both sales and traffic growth softened by about 2.0 percentage points. 
  • Fine dining was the only segment able to improve sales growth performance during the week. Sales growth declined in all other segments. The biggest drops in sales growth compared to the previous week were in family dining and quick service. Despite the slowdown in sales, all segments were able to achieve positive sales growth during the week except for family dining. 
  • Although sales growth performance worsened for 42 states during the week ending August 1, Hawaii was the only state with negative sales growth during the week (along with the District of Columbia). 
  • Of the 15 states with biggest declines in sales, only one (Arkansas) was among the 5 states with the largest COVID per capita numbers. Average sales growth performance for Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana was +8.4%, with all of them posting sales growth performance of 5% or better during the week. 

Guest Concerns Related to COVID On the Rise… Again

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Mentions related to restaurant COVID protocols as a percentage of total restaurant reviews were going down until the second week of July, when they started to increase.   
  • Limited-service restaurants are experiencing a higher percentage of increase in mentions than those in full-service.   
  • Mentions of masks are driving the increases. Comments frequently referenced whether staff are wearing masks.   
  • Positive guest comments are largely about guests being appreciative of staff wearing masks, while negative mentions include employees not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly. Some guests are also adding information on applicable masks mandates as reminders to restaurants.  
  • Guests of limited-service restaurants complaining about being asked to wear masks is trending again as another point of friction. A common root behind these complaints is lack of signage informing the guests of the restaurant’s current policy or restaurant employees being rude when asking guests to comply. 

Restaurants Hired Aggressively in July; Staffing and Turnover Remain a Problem 

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  • Overall hiring surged during July, with the economy adding over 940,000 new jobs. The restaurant industry added 253,000 jobs to that total, which means 1 in every 4 new jobs created in July was for employees in restaurants and bars. 
  • But about 1 million people that were employed by restaurants pre-pandemic have not yet returned to the industry. This translates to an 8% loss in restaurant employment as of July compared to the beginning of 2020. 
  • Even if headlines point to significant staffing relief for restaurants at the national level, the reality on the ground is quite different, with the average restaurant location continuing to operate with less staff than they did pre-COVID. 
  • A big part of the problem is that employees continue leaving their current restaurant jobs at an extremely fast pace. Turnover rates for restaurant hourly employees in both limited-service and full-service restaurants were higher by June than they were at the end of 2019, even though the unemployment rate is much higher today. And in the case of limited-service, hourly turnover increased by over 15 percentage points just in the last 3 months. 

August 4, 2021

 

Voice of the Restaurant Operator

Insights from Black Box Intelligence Q3 State of the Industry Webinar 
  • To combat price inflation, more than 70% of restaurant operators are raising menu prices. Almost 24% of restaurants are limiting menus. 
  • Of the brands raising menu prices to combat price inflation, the majority have increased price less than 2%. 20% of restaurants have increased price by more than 5%.  

 

Restaurant Industry Sales & Traffic

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
Data through the week ending July 25, 2021
Financial metrics are based on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted 
  • While the industry posted its 19th consecutive week of same-store sales growth, performance dropped and was the worst weekly results in the last 5 weeks. 
  • COVID has re-emerged as a big concern for the industry, as cases begin trending up again and the Delta variant captures the headlines. But, so far, the effect on restaurant sales seems to be minimal. 
  • 11 states had lower same-store sales growth during the week compared to their average growth reported for all of June. Wyoming, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and Arkansas experienced a 2.0 + percentage point decline in same-store sales growth. All but Wyoming still managed to post positive same-store sales growth. 
  •  Sales growth remained at +7.0% or better for 8 of those states, highlighting the strength of the industry’s performance. Despite being a COVID hotspot in recent weeks, Arkansas continues to post double digit growth in restaurant sales. So far, there seems to be a slowdown because of the new wave of COVID cases, but not a sharp drop in sales. 
  • The recent surge in COVID cases seems to be fueling another acceleration in off-premise sales growth. For limited-service, growth in off-premise sales are the strongest they have been in the last 6 weeks. In full-service, off-premise sales growth is also trending up again for the last 4 weeks. 

 

Full-Service: Employee Turnover A Driver Behind Staffing Challenges 

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  • In full-service, rolling 12-month hourly employee turnover is above 100% for May 2021 and has climbed 7 percentage points higher than it was back in 2019.  
  • States with the worst employee retention are seeing turnover rates close to double those seen in states with the best turnover results. In general, states in the southeastern area of the country are experiencing the highest turnover rates, while those in the west are experiencing lower turnover. 
  • Sates with the highest full-service hourly turnover are Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Alabama.  
  • The states with the lowest hourly turnover rates for full-service restaurants are Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Nevada and Washington. 

Limited-Service: Retaining a Larger Percentage of Digital Sales 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • Limited-service brands were used to a larger percentage of sales coming in through digital channels compared to full-service restaurants. Full-service brands caught up quickly during the pandemic, even surpassing limited-service restaurants with a greater mix of digital sales at one point. Nonetheless, quick service and fast casual have done a better job at holding on to those gains in digitals sales.   
  • By June, the percentage of all limited-service sales that were placed online (either directly from the restaurant through the brand or through third-party delivery) was still almost 20% of the total. That is a drop of only 1 percentage point from the peak in January and February of this year, which could be more related to seasonality of these orders in winter months rather than a shift in consumer preference away from digital ordering. 
  • Another interesting shift in consumer behavior is related to the size of the orders placed for limited-service restaurants through online vs. offline channels. The norm since 2019 has been for spend per transaction to be much larger when placing an online order than when ordering directly at the restaurant. But the average spend per transaction grew much faster for orders placed offline than for those placed through online channels. As a result, digital orders are currently only 40% larger on average than brick and mortar orders, while the norm back in 2019 was for them to be about 60% larger. 

July 28, 2021

Wide Range in Employee Turnover by State

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™
  • The national hourly crew turnover rate in limited-service is well above the 100% mark and remains virtually unchanged from 2019. There are some differences when examined at the state level driven by local job market conditions and undoubtedly, minimum wage plays a part as well.
  • In limited-service restaurants, states with the highest turnover are seeing hourly employee turnover rates more than double rates in those states with the best employee retention results.
  • The states with the highest hourly employee turnover rates in limited-service restaurants tend to be in the southeastern part of the country. States with highest turnover include Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama.
  • On the opposite end of the turnover spectrum, states with the lowest hourly turnover rates include New Mexico, New York, California, Washington and Massachusetts. The District of Columbia also has turnover rates that would qualify it among the best performing states based on employee retention.

Digital Orders Capturing More Than Double Their Usual Pre-COVID Share

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  • The pandemic sped up consumer adoption of online food ordering technology for full-service restaurants, with digital spend reaching over 20% of their sales earlier this year, which is triple the pre-pandemic level.
  • Since that time, the full-service segment has witnessed a decline in digital sales mix, driven by re-opened dining rooms, which has increased dine-in (offline) sales.
  • But despite this drop, digital sales still represent more than double the pre-pandemic level at full-service restaurants.
  • Despite this drop, digital sales still represent more than double the pre-pandemic level at full-service restaurants.
  • The full-service segment also observes a bump in spend per order through digital orders compared to orders placed at the restaurant (offline), albeit at a level that is roughly half of the increase seen for limited-service restaurants.

 

Consumer demand for more, convenient options along with the increase in digital ordering has contributed to a boom in virtual restaurants. For an overview of everything about ghost kitchens from menu development to site selection and staffing, download the latest free report today, The Emergence of Ghost Kitchens & Their Rising Impact.

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 18, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

  • Not only did the industry post its 18th consecutive week of growth fueled by strong check growth, but average same-store sales growth during the last 5 weeks is almost double the average recorded for the previous 5-week period.
  • Restaurants continue to be challenged by persistently negative traffic growth. This week was the worst result for the industry in the last 4 weeks.
  • Average check continues to grow at an accelerated pace, both compared to 2019 as well as year over year. Rapidly growing commodity prices and labor costs are likely to continue to push check growth.
  • Fine dining, once again, claimed the top performing industry segment for sales growth.
  • Fast casual and quick service continue performing extremely well, outperforming all segments (except for fine dining).
  • Except for breakfast, all dayparts have improved sales growth compared to June results. By far, mid-afternoon is still the top performing daypart; results have also been strong for dinner and lunch.
  • 46 states posted sales growth during the week. The only exceptions were Hawaii and Wisconsin (which had flat sales vs. 2019), North Dakota and Wyoming.
  • All regions posted positive sales during the week. those with weaker sales growth were the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Texas and New York-New Jersey.

 

July 21, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 11, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

  • The restaurant industry posted positive comp sales for the 17th consecutive week and recorded the strongest sales growth in 2021.
  • Although negative, traffic was stronger for the week than it has been all year. The latest findings continue to support that restaurant sales & wages are advancing but it’s traffic that impedes full recovery.
  • Only the late-night daypart is still seeing lower sales than 2019. Mid-afternoon remains the strongest. The lunch daypart is getting a boost, most likely fueled by more workers returning to offices, and recorded its second-best sales performance of the year (the week of Father’s Day was the highest performing week).
  • Fine dining leads the way in strongest sales growth while the segment experiencing the most improvement is family dining; however, it continues to lag the other segments.
  • Wyoming, North Dakota and Washington D.C. posted negative sales growth during the week while the Southwest, the Western region, the Southeast and California had the strongest regional performance.

Check out Black Box Intelligence Founder, Joni Thomas Doolin, on the Thoughts that Rock Podcast Episode

Restaurant Wage Growth Accelerating

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  • As operators struggle to find enough qualified employees to staff their restaurants, industry wage growth has rapidly increased. For the last three quarters, hourly wages have risen at an increasing pace year over year.
  • In limited-service, the rate of year-over-year increase in hourly wages for team members almost doubled from Q1 to Q2 2021.
  • The increase in Q2 was not as dramatic in full-service, analyzing year-over-year wage growth for line cooks. But that is in part because wage growth started accelerating earlier for these employees. While wage growth was flat year over year back in Q4 2020 for limited-service hourly employees, line cooks in full-service were already seeing significant growth.

Number of Restaurant Transactions Impacted by Children in Household

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence
  • Since 2019, consumers with children in their household tend to have a larger number of restaurant transactions per quarter than those that have no children. This pattern is most significant for limited-service restaurants.
  • On average, restaurant guests with children in their household ordered from limited-service restaurants (either dine-in or through off-premise) about 2 times more per quarter than those that don’t have children.
  • Consumers have a much larger number of limited-service transactions than full-service restaurant transactions on average. Year-to-date in 2021, households with children have averaged 4.9 limited-service restaurant transactions per each transaction in full-service during a quarter. In the case of households without children, the proportion is 4.3 transactions at limited-service brands per every transaction at a full-service restaurant.

July 14, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 4, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • With no signs of slowing, the restaurant industry posted its 16th consecutive week of positive same store sales.
  • Sales growth has been stronger in recent weeks. Same-store sales growth for each of the three weeks preceding July 4 were higher than any week during the eight weeks prior to that.
  • Limited-service sales growth continues to outperform casual dining, family dining and upscale casual by a wide margin but fine dining remains the best performing segment for sales growth.
  • Despite encouraging sales performance, restaurant traffic & guest counts continue falling compared to 2019. As a result, dine-in sales also continue to suffer. Deeper sales losses are felt in limited-service brands.
  • While off-premise sales growth remains strong for the entire industry, the rate of sales growth has been slowly trending down since mid-March for full-service restaurants.
  • 7 states had negative same-store sales growth during the week and only 4 had sales losses over 1.0%.
  • California has experienced a strong rebound in its sales in recent weeks, after restrictions for restaurants were fully lifted. After being the worst performing region based on same-store sales growth in Q1, California has become the second-best performing region based on average sales growth in the last three weeks.

The Latest on the Hourly Worker & the Job Market

Insights from the Weekly Hourly Hiring Report from Snag 

 

  • The June Jobs Report revealed employers added 850,000 jobs in June. While the increase in jobs was the strongest since last August, the total number of adults working or looking for work was flat in June.
  • Quick service restaurant (QSR) jobs are down 20% compared to pre-pandemic norms.
  • Sit-down restaurant jobs are down 41% compared to pre-pandemic norms.
  • Convenience store jobs are down 18% compared to pre-pandemic norms, with 7% month-over-month and year-over-year growth.
  • Grocery jobs are up 82% compared to pre-pandemic norms, with 2% month-over-month growth and 57% year-over-year growth.
  • Hospitality jobs are up 279% compared to pre-pandemic norms, with 70% month-over-month growth and 350% year-over-year growth.

 

Click here to see Snag’s Weekly Hourly Hiring Report – with more on job growth across additional industries and a rolling 12-month trend.

 

Mask Mentions Plummeted in June

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  • With many more people returning to restaurants, the number of mentions by guests of masks in their online restaurant reviews and comments also increased.
  • But as vaccination efforts continued and CDC guidelines were revised, the latest data shows vigilance on the usage of masks is falling quickly among restaurant guests.
  • The drop in mask mentions is widespread throughout the country, with all regions seeing less mentions during June than any other month since March.
  • Most telling about the change in guest attitude towards masks is how quickly those mentions plummeted all over the country. For example, the number of mask mentions dropped by over 70% in June compared with March in the Southeast and Southwest
  • However, the story is different in California, which only recently lifted restrictions. Mask mentions have been steadily decreasing since March as they have been in the rest of the country, but the rate at which they are decreasing is much slower. By June the number of mask mentions in California was only 17% lower than it was back in March.

July 7, 2021

 

The Labor Shortage: A Consistent and Complex Topic

 

  • The term “labor shortage” was searched more in May 2021 than during any other month in Google’s history as reported by Snag in the latest Hourly Hiring Report.
  • The Snag report also noted that the June Jobs Report revealed that employers added 850,000 jobs last month; That is the biggest total jobs increase in the past 10 months, and it exceeded expert predictions by 22%.
  • Workers’ wages are also rising, up 3.6% overall year over year, with hospitality workers making 7.9% more in June than they were pre-pandemic. The Hourly Hiring Report suggests that for the job market to fully recover, the increased wage trend must continue.

*Visit the Weekly Hourly Hiring Report by Snag here. 

Staffing Levels Per Restaurant Remain Low

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  • As of May, limited-service restaurants (which have posted strong same-store sales growth since the beginning of the year), are still unable to return to their pre-pandemic number of employees per location.
  • The median limited-service chain operated each of their restaurants with almost one fewer employee in May than they did back in 2019.
  • The staffing cuts remain deeper for full-service restaurants, with twice as many employees missing in the front-of-house than in back-of-house positions.

Staffing Issues Are Noticed by Guests

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • The chatter from guests mentioning restaurants being understaffed in their online reviews and comments continues to increase. We saw the biggest increase in related mentions in March 2021.
  • From February to March 2021, ‘understaffed’ mentions increased 181% for full-service restaurants. For limited-service restaurants, mentions jumped by 78%.
  • For full-service restaurants, the number of “understaffed” mentions and related topics has grown steadily every month since March. The month with the largest number of understaffed-related mentions was June over the last six-month period.
  • For limited-service restaurants, “understaffed” and related mentions increased steadily since March but saw a decline in June. The month with the largest number of mentions related to understaffing over the last six months was May.

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 27, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Restaurant industry sales posted positive same-store sales growth for the 15th consecutive week.
  • The week ending June 27 was the 2nd strongest week of same-store sales and traffic growth in the last 10 weeks. Only beat by the previous week’s results boosted by the Father’s Day holiday.
  • Despite lapping over periods of high check growth, average check per guest or transaction continues to grow at an accelerated pace, with little indication of a slowdown.
  • Fine dining was the best performing segment during the week. Sales for the segment have shown unusually high growth as guests return to dine-in experiences and business-related meals return.
  • Dine-in sales are still far from fully recovered, especially for limited-service restaurants. Restaurants have suffered deep losses in their dine-in sales compared to 2019 numbers.
  • Only 2 states, Vermont and North Dakota, posted negative same-store sales growth during the week. Washington DC also consistently reports negative sales growth.
  • The Western region, the Southeast and Florida were the best performing regions for sales growth.
  • The worst performing regions for sales growth during the week were New York-New Jersey, New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

 

Key Insights – June 30, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 20, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • The restaurant industry continued its streak of positive same-store sales growth (14th in a row), supported by a favorable Father’s Day holiday shift*. 
  • This holiday was favorable for full-service segments**. Except for family dining (which posted results just shy of flat same-store sales), all full-service segments experienced a strong improvement over last week and posted positive same-store sales growth. 
  • Limited-service*** didn’t fare as well during the week. Most likely due to consumers opting for full- service outings for the Father’s Day holiday.
  • At the industry level, average check posted double-digit year over year growth during the week. 
  • All states posted positive same-store sales growth. The top performing regions for the week were: The West****, the Southeast, Florida and California. Considering the last two weeks combined, the Southeast, Florida and the West regions had the strongest performance. 
  • Regions with the worst performance for the week were Texas, New England and New York-New Jersey. 

 

* Father’s Day is included in this week’s results (6/20/2021) but not in the comparable week in 2019
**Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining
***Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual
****The Western region does not include California, California as a state is considered its own region 

 

The Very Latest Insights from Black Box Intelligence™

 

[Restaurant Industry Growth Trends to Know in 2021]. From sales and third-party delivery to consumer habits and staffing challenges, we’ve got our eye on the most critical challenges facing the industry.

[4 Reasons Restaurants Need Big Data Now More than Ever]. Check out our latest blog post outlining how data can help restaurant brands navigate the pandemic recovery.

Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

Groceries Still Capturing Latest Share of Stomach

 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Traditional grocery stores continue capturing the most share of stomach, roughly double the spend of that at restaurants. 
  • Spend at traditional groceries varies across regions. The Northeast allocating the most to “food at home” and the Midwest allocating the least. 
  • For “food away from the house”, the South spends the most at full-service restaurants, nearly 10% of total food spend, while the Midwest spends the most at limited-service restaurants, nearly 30%. 
  • Restaurants represent between 25-40% of total food spend in all regions. 

Guests Frustrations Focus on Speed of Service

 

Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • While sales and traffic have improved considerably in recent quarters, and staffing continues to be a headache for restaurant operators, guest sentiment data suggests ‘speed’ of “service” is suffering. 
  • For the second consecutive quarter, net sentiment* based on ‘speed’ of “service” has dropped for almost all industry segments. 
  • Except for casual and family dining, the drops in ‘speed’ of “service” sentiment were much larger in Q2 than they were in Q1 of 2021. 
  • The biggest drop in ‘speed’ of “service” sentiment during Q2 was in fast casual, followed by fine dining and quick service.  

*Net sentiment represents the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions for a given topic 

 

June 23, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 13, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Despite an unfavorable shift in the Father’s Day holiday, the industry posted its 13th consecutive week of positive same-store sales growth*. Same-store traffic continues being negative.
  • For the first time since mid-March, all full-service segments** experienced negative same-store sales growth because of the shift in the holiday. Fine dining and family dining experienced the largest sales losses.
  • The best performing segment during the week was quick service, followed by fast casual.
  • Average check continues growing at an accelerated rate year over year for most segments. But after a year of rapid check growth, quick service has experienced a slowdown in the rate at which average check has been growing.
  • The best performing regions during the week based on sales growth were the Southeast, Florida and the Southwest.
  • Five regions of the country experienced negative sales growth during the week: New England, New York-New Jersey, the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and California.

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

* Father’s Day was present in the comparable week in 2019, but not during week ending June 13, 2021.
**Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining
***Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual

4 Reasons Restaurants Need Big Data Now More than Ever. Check out our latest blog post outlining how data can help restaurant brands navigate the pandemic recovery.

3rd Party Delivery Spend Continues to Grow

 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Data from Q2 2021 shows consumer spending of restaurant food and beverage through 3rd party delivery continues to increase, with spend accelerating at a faster rate for limited-service brands.
  • 3rd party delivery spending for full-service restaurants remains elevated, but growth has flattened over the last two quarters.
  • The age group with the highest share of 3rd party delivery spending continues to be 25- to 34-year-olds. About one third of all spending through 3rd party delivery was done by this age group so far in 2021, up slightly from its share back in 2019.
  • From an income standpoint, it is those with the highest income levels who capture the biggest share of 3rd party delivery spending by a large margin.
  • Share of 3rd party delivery spend decreased among those with incomes above $150K in 2021 compared to 2019. Gains in share were captured by those with lower income levels (those making $60K and less annually).

Masks Still Causing Friction at Restaurants

 

Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Over the last 3 months, the number of mentions of masks has been declining in online reviews and comments for full-service restaurant brands. During the same period, the net sentiment* associated with masks in those reviews has been improving.
  • For limited service, the number of mentions that refer to masks has not declined significantly in recent months, but net sentiment associated with mask usage continues to be negative.
  • Analyzing mask mentions revealed there are now two strong positions in conflict. There are many people that are still expecting masks to be worn, and that are also pointing out when they are not being worn correctly. This is nothing new, but rather something that had been a common stance throughout the pandemic.
  • Now there are people that are vocal about the new guidelines no longer requiring them to wear masks because they have been fully vaccinated. And in many cases, they are frustrated that they are being asked by restaurant employees to wear masks. Also, they also point out that some of those reminders to wear masks by the restaurant staff are being perceived as being quite rude and unfriendly.

 

*Net sentiment represents the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions for a given topic

June 16, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 6, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Despite posting their 12th consecutive week of positive same-store sales growth, results for the week saw a drop in sales growth from last week and tied for the lowest performance since sales growth turned positive back in March.
  • Same-store traffic growth worsened during the week and remains negative. This week posted the worst traffic growth in the last 9 weeks.
  • Average guest checks continue growing at an accelerated pace both YOY and compared to 2019, with no signs of slowing down in recent weeks. Check growth continues to be the driver behind the industry’s sales recovery.
  • Fine dining continues its streak of success as the best performing segment based on same-store sales. The segment has posted 4 consecutive weeks of double-digit growth.
  • Casual dining and upscale casual are both consistently posting positive sales growth.
  • Off-premise sales* growth dropped during the week for both limited-service** and full-service*** restaurants. In the case of full-service, this slowdown has been the trend for the last few months. For limited-service, it may be a sign of things to come.
  • Alcoholic beverage sales in full-service restaurants is negative when compared to 2019. After consistently improving since the end of April, beverage sales growth took a stumble during the most recent week.
  • 42 states posted positive same-store sales growth during the week.
  • The best performing regions based on sales growth were the Western region (excluding California), the Southwest, Florida and Mountain Plains.
  • Worst performing regions based on sales growth were New York (the only region with negative sales growth during the week), the Mid-Atlantic, California and the Midwest.

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

*Off-premise sales includes: to-go (pickup), delivery and drive-thru (where applicable)
**Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual
***Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

Race & Ethnicity Changes in Restaurant Workforce Demographics


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • The pandemic and the staffing challenges experienced by the industry resulted in small shifts in the composition of the restaurant workforce from a racial/ethnic standpoint.
  • In the case of limited-service restaurants, share of African American hourly employees decreased in 2021 in comparison to 2019. But in the case of managers of all levels, white representation dropped slightly.
  • In the case of full-service restaurants, the demographic shift is much clearer. The share of Hispanic employees decreased in 2021 in the case of hourly employees as well as restaurant managers of all levels compared to 2019.

The gold standard in annual restaurant workforce benchmarks 2021 Total Rewards Research Survey is liveThis annual survey includes benchmarks on training, diversity & inclusion, turnover, recruiting, compensation and benefits. Click here to learn more and participate, for free. 

Key Insights – June 9, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 30, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  •  As recovery continues, restaurant sales accelerated during the week and posted its 11th consecutive week of growth and the best results in the last 6 weeks.
  • Guest checks continue growing at an accelerated pace, both year over year as well as compared to 2019. Guest counts are far from positive.
  • Quick service and fast casual experienced the lowest check growth year over year during the week.
  • Fine dining was the best performing segment for sales.
  • Off-premise* sales growth remains historically high and relatively stable for limited-service brands**.
  • For full-service restaurants***, off-premise sales are extremely high but the rate of growth has been in a steady decline since mid-March.
  • Only 5 states and the District of Columbia had negative same-store sales growth results.
  • The best performing regions during the week were the Southeast, Southwest, Florida and Mountain Plains.
  • Worst performing regions were the Midwest, New England, New York-New Jersey and California.

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

*Off-premise sales includes: to-go (pickup), delivery and drive-thru (where applicable)
**Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual
***Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Changes in Restaurant Workforce Demographics


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence
  •  During 2021, the percentage of female restaurant hourly employees and managers has increased slightly compared to 2019. This shift towards more female representation is industry wide.
  • The biggest increase in the percentage of female restaurant managers was in limited-service restaurants. This includes all levels of management within the restaurant from shift leaders to general managers.
  • Despite the growth in female representation year to date, only slightly more than a third of restaurant managers in full-service are female.

 

The gold standard in annual restaurant workforce benchmarks 2021 Total Rewards Research Survey is liveThis annual survey includes benchmarks on training, diversity & inclusion, turnover, recruiting, compensation and benefits. Click here to learn more and participate, for free. 

 

Restaurant Cleanliness Remains King in the Consumer’s Eyes


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • During May, 2 of the 3 most frequently mentioned “ambiance” terms for limited-service in guest comments were related to cleanliness. The most frequently mentioned “ambiance” terms were “clean”, “old” and “dirty”.
  • Among casual dining guests, the most mentioned “ambiance” keyword during May was also “clean”, with “dirty” also included in the top 4 terms just behind “atmosphere” and “old”.
  • Guests were 60% more likely to describe a casual dining restaurant as clean or dirty than they were to explicitly mention the restaurant’s atmosphere when reviewing their experiences.

 

Key Insights – June 2, 2021

Restaurant Industry Turnover


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • High employee turnover rates remain a concern for full-service restaurants and are undoubtedly a driving factor behind the staffing difficulties reported by many companies in this space.
  • As was reported for limited-service last week, there are substantial differences in employee retention between different regions and states of the country. Regional factors such as minimum wage and unemployment rates contribute to create a different set of circumstances restaurants need to contend with at the local level.
  • States with the highest full-service employee turnover are experiencing rates over twice as large as states that are obtaining the best retention results.
  • The states with the highest restaurant employee turnover rates in full-service during Q1 2021 were Mississippi, Alabama, South Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. All these states except for South Dakota were in the list of states with highest limited-service turnover during the quarter.
  • The states with the lowest turnover rates for full-service restaurant employees during Q1 were Hawaii, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, West Virginia, Washington and California.

* Excludes the effect of the layoffs due to the pandemic

The gold standard in annual restaurant workforce benchmarks 2021 Total Rewards Research will launch tomorrow. This annual survey includes benchmarks on training, diversity & inclusion, turnover, recruiting, compensation and benefits. To participate, for free, in this exclusive annual research, click here to sign up to be the first to be notified that the survey is open for participation.

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 23, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • Restaurant sales continue to be strong; the industry posted positive same-store sales growth for the tenth consecutive week.
  • However, restaurant sales growth has decelerated in recent weeks compared to the period between mid-March to late April, when the industry had its largest sales growth rates.
  • Although sales have recovered to their pre-pandemic levels, the industry is far from being able to post positive traffic growth and experiencing declining guest counts.
  • Average guest checks continue growing at a rapid pace, both year over year and compared to 2 years ago.
  • Quick service and fast casual segments reported the largest growth in average check. The smallest guest check growth during the week came from casual dining.
  • The fine dining segment has been the top performing segment based on 2-year same-store sales growth during the last 2 consecutive weeks. It is also the only segment that has been able to grow dine-in business in recent weeks. Significant pent-up demand for experience-based dining along with graduation celebrations contributed to the strong results for this segment in late May.
  • Limited-service*segments outperformed most of the industry based on same-store sales growth. Full-service** performance has been inconsistent lately. 2 of the last 3 weeks dipped back into negative sales growth after a strong, consistent period of growth in previous months.
  • 39 states posted positive 2-year same-store sales growth during the week. The best performing regions during the week based on same-store sales growth were the Southeast, Southwest and Florida.
  • Worst performing regions based on 2-year sales growth were New England, California and New York-New Jersey, all reporting sales losses versus the comparable week in 2019.

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

* Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual
**Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Restaurant Spend & Guest Annual Income

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Guests of all income levels spent more at limited-service restaurants during Q1 2021 than they did a year ago.
  • The year-over-year percentage increase in spend is surprisingly consistent for all income levels when it comes to limited-service, with high-income guests growing spend only slightly more than the rest.
  • Spend at full-service restaurants during Q1 only grew year over year for guests with annual incomes of $40,000 or less.
  • Spend at full-service restaurants decreased year over year for all categories above $40,000 in annual income. In fact, the higher the income level, the bigger the spending cuts year over year on full-service restaurants during the first three months of 2021.

Leverage the power of next-gen restaurant market research and learn where guests spend money when they aren’t with you. Learn more about Black Box Consumer Intelligence™, a one-of-a-kind, robust tool driven by 20 million credit card transactions

Key Insights – May 26, 2021

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 16, 2021)
Financial metrics are a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted

 

  • The industry achieved 9 consecutive weeks of positive same-store sales growth driven by high acceleration in average check. 
  • Traffic struggles to recover and has not returned to 2019 levels. 
  • The best performing segments based were fine dining, quick service and fast casual. 
  • Off-premise* sales continue growing at an accelerated pace. But while limited-service** restaurants off-premise sales growth flattened in recent weeks, it continues to slowly fade down for full-service*** restaurants. 
  • 39 states had positive same-store sales growth during the week. The top performing regions were the Southeast, Florida and Texas. 
  • Worst performing regions during the week were New England, New York-New Jersey, California and Mid-Atlantic. 

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

*Off-premise sales includes to-go (takeout), delivery and drive-thru (when applicable)
** Limited-service segments: quick service and fast casual
***Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Restaurant Industry Turnover, Recruiting & Talent Marketing


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • The latest data shows the industry has both a recruiting as well as a retention problem. Turnover over the last six months* is almost as high as it was immediately before the pandemic. Back then, the labor market was at full-employment levels, which allowed plenty of incentive for employees to quit their jobs and pursue other opportunities. 
  • At the state level, there are wide ranges of turnover ratesFor limited-service restaurants, those states with the highest turnover are experiencing rates more than double that of those with the lowest turnover. 
  • Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia had the highest restaurant turnover rates for non-management employees in limited-service during Q4 2020 and Q1 2021. 
  • States with the lowest non-management turnover rates in limited-service Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 includeNew York, California, Oregon as well as the District of Columbiathese are all states that have been impacted the most by the pandemic. 


* Excludes the effect of the layoffs due to the pandemic 

Is Your Brand Employment Message Ready for a Post Pandemic World? Click here to read the latest guest article< covering talent marketing and the ever-changing landscape of recruiting new talent.

 

The gold standard in annual restaurant workforce benchmarks 2021 Total Rewards Research will launch tomorrow. This annual survey includes benchmarks on training, diversity & inclusion, turnover, recruiting, compensation and benefits. To participate, for free, in this exclusive annual research, click here to sign up to be the first to be notified that the survey is open for participation.

 

Pizza & Fries Rule Guest Reviews Online


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Among the most mentioned cuisine types online is pizza. It is also the cuisine type that received the most negative mentions during April. This suggests that while pizza’s popularity is indisputable, there may be some execution consistency issues in its preparation, order accuracy, timeliness or quality that are leading unsatisfied guests. 
  • In casual dining, the menu item with the most negative mentions in April was “wings”. Like pizzawings are an extremely popular item that generate a lot of positive sentiment, but also one that may suffer from consistency issues that can bring guest sentiment down. 
  • All segments saw the most negative mentions around “sauce” and “fries”. Since off-premise sales are still so high, dissatisfaction could be stemming from expectations not being met around inclusion of the correct sauces. 
  • For more on guest sentiment, click here to read the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot

 

Key Insights – May 19, 2021

 

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 9, 2021)

 

  • Restaurant sales growth has been positive for 8 consecutive weeks; nonetheless, 2-year same-store sales softened the last three weeks compared to the previous week’s performance. 
  • Same-store traffic growth fell during the week and is still negative vs. 2019. 
  • Mother’s Day* fueled a jump in sales for restaurants in 2021, but it only equated to about half of its usual boost to the topline. Average weekly sales during the week were 3.5% higher than the average for the previous 4 weeks. In 2018 and 2019, sales due to the holiday jumped 6%7% compared to the weeks immediately preceding or following the holiday. 
  • 2-year sales growth performance dipped for all full-service** segmentspresumably the result of Mother’s Day not being as strong as in pre-COVID years. The hardest-hit segment was fine dining. 
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Florida and the West. The worst performing regions (and the only ones with negative 2-year sales growth during the week) were New England, California and New York. 

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

*Mother’s Day is included in this week’s results as well as the comparable week in 2019
**Full-service segments: family dining, casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Wage Growth for the Restaurant Workforce


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • At the national level, the current staffing pressures have not translated into an acceleration in wage growth for hourly employees in limited-service* restaurants. Median national hourly wage has remained essentially flat for the last three quarters.  
  • There are significant differences at the state level and wage acceleration has begun picking up for limited-service brands. 
  • In full-service, hourly wages have been accelerating at a much larger pace over the last year.  

2021 Total Rewards Research: The gold standard in annual restaurant workforce benchmarks including training, diversity & inclusion, turnover, recruiting, compensation and benefits. To participate, for free, in this exclusive annual research head to this link to sign up for updates.

*limited-service segments: QSR/quick service and fast casual 

 

Trends in Restaurant Guest Spend – Share of Wallet

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • The shift in share of spending at full-service restaurants towards younger consumers, which was triggered by the pandemic, continued through April. 
  • During April of 2021, guests between 18 and 24 years of age increased their share of total full-service spend by 2 percentage points compared to the 2019 average. 
  • Guests between 25 and 34 years of age also represented an additional 2 percentage points of total full-service spend during the month compared to their 2019 share. 
  • The age demographics that continue to experience a reduction in their share of total full-service restaurant spend are those 55 and over, with the biggest drop in those over 65. 
  • Those guests 65 years and older experienced a reduction of 3 percentage points during April in their share of total full-service spend compared to their pre-pandemic norm. 

 

 

Key Insights – May 12, 2021

 

Restaurant Sales & Traffic 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 2, 2021)

 

  • The week ending May 2 was the seventh consecutive week with positive 2-year comp sales growth. 
  • 2-year comp sales, albeit positive, fell from the previous week. 
  • Much of the strength in restaurant sales can be largely attributed to substantial growth in average checks per guest or transaction. 
  • Restaurant traffic has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. 
  • Limited-service* concepts continue outperforming most of the full-service** segments; nonetheless, fine dining has maintained a run of strong sales growth. 
  • 37 states posted positive 2-year comp sales growth during the week.  
  • New England and New York-New Jersey were the only regions with negative 2-year comp sales. 
  • The best performing regions during the week based on 2-year comp sales were the Western region, Southwest, Texas and Southeast. 

*Limited-service: quick service and fast casual
**Full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

We’re now sharing 2-year comp sales data to provide a clearer picture of restaurant performance. Download the latest free guide: How to Look at Your Restaurant Data in the Wake of Coronavirus for an overview of how we are presenting data to help you navigate your numbers after the disruption from 2020.

The Restaurant Workforce


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows restaurants continued hiring heavily during April. There were 187,000 new restaurant jobs added during the month. 
  • While the industry has added close to 650,000 new jobs since the beginning of the year, there are still about 1.7 million pre-pandemic restaurant jobs that have not yet returned. 
  • As of March, the median limited-service chain staffed each of its restaurants with about 1 less employee per location on average than they did back in 2019. 
  • Full-service restaurants staffing cuts continue to be much larger than limited-service, especially in front-of-house positions. 
  • While staffing cuts were initially intentional in response to the labor crisis caused by the pandemic, there has been little movement in these staffing levels in recent months. This suggests that the data reflects what many restaurant operators have been very vocal about. It is extremely hard to find employees to work at restaurants. 

 

As the fight for talent intensifies, building competitive comp and benefits packages for employees has never been more important. We are launching our exclusive annual research covering pay, bonus, benefits and other critical workforce topics next month. Head to this link to sign up for updates and be on the list to participate.

 

Voice of the Restaurant Guest


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Masks are in the forefront of restaurant guests’ minds as many are vocal online through their reviews and comments regarding their expectations when visiting restaurants. 
  • Guests remain vigilant on the usage of masksin many cases pointing out when they are being worn incorrectly, particularly by restaurant employees. 
  • Masks also remain a source of friction between guests and restaurant employees when the latter enforce their mask policies. Some guests complain about employees being rude or disrespectful when enforcing the rules.

 

Key Insights – May 5, 2021

 

Voice of the Restaurant Operator: Recruiting & Labor Shortage


Last week, Black Box Intelligence™ hosted a State of the Industry webinar during which the audience was polled on recruiting and the biggest driver of the current labor shortage. Below are the results of those polls:
  • Operators are seeing employee referrals (49%) and company website/job boards (32%) as the two recruiting efforts with the best results so far in 2021.
  • The vast majority of operators polled (57%) selected ‘higher pay through unemployment’ as the main driver behind the industry’s labor shortage. Other contributing factors include ‘higher pay in another industry’ (14%), ‘better quality of life in another industry’ (20%) and ‘health or customer management concern due to Coronavirus’ (4%).

The next quarterly State of the Industry webinar is July 29, 2021, and open to all clients of Black Box Intelligence™. Click here to register.

If you’d like to listen to the State of the Industry session on-demand, please reach out to marketing@blackboxintelligence.com.

Our exclusive annual workforce survey research will launch later this month. The survey will cover corporate compensation, total rewards, diversity & inclusion, recruiting, turnover, training and development. FREE to participate, head to this link to sign up for more information when the survey period opens.

Sales, Traffic & Regional Financial Results

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending April 25, 2021)

 

  • This was the 6th consecutive week 2-year comp sales growth has been positive for the industry. However, the rate at which sales growth is growing is slowing down.
  • 2-year comp traffic growth fell in comparison to the previous week and remains negative.
  • 5 of the 6 industry segments posted positive 2-year comp sales growth. Family dining was the only segment with negative 2-year growth.
  • The best performing segment during the week was fine dining. This segment has improved performance in recent weeks and is the only segment that has posted positive 2-year dine-in sales growth.
  • 39 states had positive 2-year comp sales growth during the week.
  • Southwest, Southeast, Western and Mountain Plains had the best comp sales results during the week. New York-New Jersey, California, New England and the Mid-Atlantic saw the worst results.

 

*Off-premise: includes to-go (takeout), delivery and drive-thru

 

The Growth of 3rd Party Delivery

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • 3rd party delivery (3PD) spend continues to accelerate a year into the pandemic.
  • Since the start of 2019, each quarter has seen an increase in spend through 3PD compared to the quarter before for both limited-service** and full-service restaurants***.
  • Q2 of 2020 saw a big jump in 3PD spend, as would be expected, with limited-service and full-service restaurants continuing to grow at roughly the same accelerated pace.
  • But since Q3 of 2020, limited-service 3PD sales have taken off at a much higher rate, widening the gap vs. 3PD sales in full-service restaurants.
  • Full-service continues to grow 3PD sales at an accelerated rate, with no signs of slowing down, but not as fast as limited-service has grown through this channel.

 

**Limited-service: quick service and fast casual
***Full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining

Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse

Key Insights – April 28, 2021

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Restaurants continue to operate with less staff than they did in 2019. Most cuts were likely the necessary response to the sharp decrease in sales and traffic due to the pandemic, but the staffing crisis in recent months may be to blame for staffing levels not recovering more quickly to their pre-COVID levels.
  • Complicating the staffing issue is the fact that regional differences such as state minimum wages, unemployment rates and competition from other industries can create vast differences in local labor markets.
  • Although restaurants are rapidly adding jobs at the national level (over 500,000 new restaurant jobs created in the first three months of the year*), operators have been very vocal in recent weeks regarding the hiring challenges they are facing in their own markets.
  • The staffing problem is not only one recruiting difficulty. Restaurant employee turnover for the last 6 months** reveals retention difficulties approaching what we saw immediately before the pandemic, when we were facing the tightest labor market in over 50 years.
  • Much as what we saw at the beginning of 2020 (pre-COVID), almost 60% of all terminations are occurring within the first 6 months of employment. Finding employees is only part of the problem. Finding the right employees and engaging them enough to stay beyond just a few months is proving to be equally challenging.

 

*Bureau of Labor Statistics
**Employee turnover for the last six months when annualized

 

As the fight for talent intensifies, building competitive comp and benefits packages for employees has never been more important. We’re launching our exclusive annual research covering pay, bonus, benefits and other critical workforce topics next month. Head to this link to sign up for updates and be on the list to participate.

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending April 18, 2021)

 

  • For the 5th consecutive week, 2-year comp sales growth has been positive. The week was the best sales and traffic results in well over a year.
  • Growth in average checks per guest/transaction is the key driver behind the positive sales results.
  • Despite the strong improvement, comp traffic has yet to post a week of growth on a 2-year basis.
  • 2-year off-premise* comp sales growth is on an upward trend over the last two months for limited-service restaurants**. Off-premise sales are historically high for the segments and accelerating.
  • Off-premise sales continue to grow at a high rate for full-service restaurants***, but the pace of growth may be starting to taper off.
  • Only two states (Vermont and Massachusetts) had negative 2-year comp sales during the week. Washington DC also posted negative 2-year sales growth during the week.
  • The best performing regions were the Southeast, Southwest, Mountain Plains and the West.
  • The worst performing regions were New England (only region with negative 2-year growth), New York-New Jersey and California.

 

*Off-premise: includes to-go (takeout), delivery and drive-thru (were available)
**limited-service: quick service and fast casual
***full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • While “food” and “service” sentiment picked up strength in March, “Cleanliness” is still top of mind for restaurant guests. See the latest guest intelligence report HERE.
  • Online guest sentiment for restaurant “value” has dropped as check averages have been rapidly rising rapidly since the beginning of the pandemic. “Value” net sentiment dropped considerably in Q2 of last year and has seen little recovery.
  • For full-service restaurants, “value” net sentiment recovered slightly in Q3 and Q4 from the low reached in Q2 of 2020.
  • Growth in average check per guest accelerated sharply during Q1 2021, which translated into “value” net sentiment dropping once more and losing some of the ground it had covered in recent quarters.
  • Net sentiment for “value” was the worst performing attribute in March for limited-service restaurants. Black Box Guest Intelligence™ also tracks “food”, beverage”, “service”, “ambiance” and “intent to return” as key attributes.

 

Key Insights – April 21, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending April 11, 2021)

 

  • After encouraging results in March (for the latest monthly sales and traffic numbers, visit: Restaurant Sales Get a Boost, as Workforce Challenges Resurface), the first full week of April was the best week for the industry in well over a year based 2-year comp sales growth. It also marked the fourth consecutive week of positive sales growth. 
  • Although traffic remains negative when measuring the change over two years, this week was the closest the industry has been to recovering to pre-pandemic guest counts with a 5 percentage point improvement from the previous week.  
  • Rapid acceleration in average check per guest/transaction continues to be the driver of the recent encouraging restaurant sales results 
  • Casual dining continues to outperform full-service* segments 
  • Family dining is the only segment that had negative 2-year same-store sales growth during the week. 
  • Dine-in sales as a percentage of the total has declined over the last two weeks for both limited-service** and full-service restaurants. 
  • 47 states posted positive 2-year same-store sales results. Only Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and the District of Columbia had negative results for the week.  

 

*full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining
**limited-service: quick service and fast casual 

 

Voice of the Restaurant Operator

 

  • As the good news for restaurant sales continues, workforce challenges are resurfacing, especially around staffing. In a recent poll conducted online by Black Box Intelligence™, 75% of operators are primarily focused on either recruiting talent (51%) or retaining talent (24%) in Q2 
  • In addition, 14% are focused on employee wellbeing and morale on their teams.  

 

Crafting competitive compensation and benefits packages for employees has never been more important. We’re launching our exclusive annual research covering pay, bonus, benefits and other critical workforce topics next monthHead to this link to sign up for updates and be on the list to participate. 

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • As of March 2021, grocery and limited-service restaurants both had a larger percentage of food spend (“share of stomach”) than they did in the period immediately before the pandemic (January and February 2020). 
  • Full-service restaurants still have a lower percentage of food spend than they did pre-COVID. 
  • The region with the biggest gains in limited-service share of stomach was the Northeast. The region with the smallest gains was the West. 
  • The entire country saw a decline in the share of stomach share of full-service restaurants during the same period.  
  • The largest losses in food spend for full-service restaurants were in the Northeast. 
  • The region with the smallest decline in share for full-service was the South. 
  • The changes have varied by region for grocery “share of stomach”. The Northeast and West both experienced grocery having a larger percentage of overall food spend in March than it did pre-COVID. The Midwest and South experienced a drop in share of grocery food spend during the period. 

Key Insights – April 14, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending April 4, 2021)

 

  • For the third consecutive week, the industry posted positive 2-year comp sales growthDespite recent sales growth momentumrestaurant traffic has yet to break into positive territory. The last 3 weeks have seen some of the best 2-year traffic results in the COVID era. 
  • Included in the latest week is Easter, but the holiday was not in the comparable week in 2019. This holiday typically has a positive effect on full-service* restaurants (particularly upscale), while usually creating a headwind for those in limited service**. 
  • Average check per guest/transaction continues growing at an accelerated pace YOY and over 2 years. 
  • The best performing regions were the West, Texas and the Southwest.  
  • of 11 regions posted positive 2-year sales growth during the week. The only regions with negative sales were California and New England (the only region to see its 2-year comp sales performance get worse compared to the previous week). 

 

*full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining
** limited-servicequick service and fast casual 

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Jobs are up 62% compared to early March 2020 and job growth also up 15% month over month and 106% year over year*. But the consistent theme for many restaurants remains: it is hard to find enough employees.
  • While millions of restaurant jobs were lost to the pandemic last year, other industries have been hiring at an accelerated pace, attracting employees away from the restaurant industry and contributing to the staffing challenges that already existed pre pandemic.
  • At the beginning of 2020, only 13% of limited-service restaurant companies reported being fully staffed in restaurant hourly, non-management, positions.
  • Pre-pandemic, full-service fared slightly better with 38% of companies reporting they were fully staffed for those hourly positions.
  • The bigger challenge has been staffing back of house positions. One year ago, only 10% of full-service restaurant companies reported their kitchens were fully staffed.
  • Snagajob, an online marketplace for hourly work suggests despite the challenges, there are 4 things restaurants can do to attract hourly work: focus on retention of current employees, make your team your recruiting engine and look for transferable skills.

 

*Snagajob’s Weekly Hiring Report

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Guest net sentiment* for “service” and “ambiance” in full-service restaurant has begun showing signs of weakening. Comp traffic improved drastically during Q1 2021 compared with Q4 2020, which may be causing some additional challenges to operators in these areas of guest sentiment. 
  • This is a result of both a decrease in the percentage of positive reviews and an increase in the percentage of negative reviews received by full-service restaurants based on their service and ambiance. 
  • Service net sentiment declines are being driven by a decline in attentiveness and speed’.  Ambiance” declines are mostly related to cleanliness. 
  • For limited-service restaurants, the improvement in comp traffic quarter-over-quarter was half of what full-service experienced. As a result, restaurant crews in limited-service seem to have been able to better absorb the additional traffic with little changes to the experience 
  • Quick service even registered improved net sentiment in service and ambiance during Q1. 

*Net Sentiment: % Positive – % Negative 

 

Key Insights – April 7, 2021

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Restaurant share of stomach is at its highest level since the pandemic began, while traditional grocery is at its lowest. 
  • Traditional grocery has been slowly losing the share of stomach gains that it won early in the pandemic, giving up share to restaurants and online grocery. In fact, traditional grocery is now tracking below its pre-pandemic share of stomach level by almost 3 percentage points. 
  • Full-service* restaurants have experienced steady and strong growth year to date, but its share of stomach remains below its pre-pandemic norm by just shy of 2 percentage points. 
  • Limited-service** continues to take share, not only hitting a new high during the pandemic period but also tracking above the pre-pandemic norm by over 2 percentage points.  
  • The online grocery segment, which saw a jump in share by the end of last year, has come down off its recent highs. But even with the recent decline in share, online grocery remains above its pre-pandemic level by nearly 2.5% percentage points.  

 

*Full-service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining
**Limited-service: quick service and fast casual 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Guest sentiment for “to-go” and “delivery” food improved for both full and limited-service restaurants. Nonetheless, guest sentiment for these categories in limited-service restaurants remains lower than pre-COVID. In full-service, guest sentiment has improved at a faster pace and to-go food has even recorded positive sentiment in recent months. 
  • As of February, full-service restaurants “dine-in” food net sentiment was 56%, net sentiment for “to-go” was 4% and net sentiment for “delivery was -8%.* 
  • For limited-service restaurants, net sentiment during February was 18% for dine-in food, -6% for to-go and -26% for delivery. 

 *Net Sentiment: % Positive – % Negative 

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Restaurants and bars hired 176,000 people in March, the biggest increase in any industry last month*. 
  • As pandemic recovery continues, many restaurants are conducting massive hiring initiatives however the struggle to find workers is a persistent challenge.  
  • Chains are getting creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to new ways of recruiting, including drive-thru hiring days, increased benefits and hiring parties (with appropriate social distancing rules). ** 
  • A recent Black Box Intelligence poll revealed that 50% of restaurants will be offering incentives to their employees who get vaccinated. According to a recent article in Business Insider 
    • McDonald’s will offer corporately-owned restaurants up to 4 hours of paid time off. 
    • Darden and Starbucks will offer workers hours paid time off per dose. 
    • Shake Shack will give workers 3 hours of pay per shot of the 2-dose vaccine.  

 

Download the results from our latest operator survey: What are Restaurants Doing Regarding the COVID-19 Vaccine & their Workforce.” 

DOWNLOAD THE INFOGRAPHIC FOR RESULTS
[pardot-form height=”175″ id=”1991″ title=”COVID-19 Vaccine Infographic”]
*Bureau of Labor Statistics
**The restaurant industry is on a hiring spree as COVID-19 recovery continues – Nation’s Restaurant News  

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending March 28, 2021)

 

  • For the second consecutive week, 2-year comp sales growth was positive for the industry. Sales numbers were impacted last week with a favorable St. Patrick’s Day shift. This week did not have as large of a boost but more likely reflects the current strength of the industry. 
  • Factors contributing to stronger sales for restaurants in recent weeks includconsumer pent up demand, warmer weather, stimulus aidexpanded unemployment benefits, a significant jump in hiring throughout the economy and a new sense of optimism as COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues. 
  • 2-year comp sales for casual dining and fine dining were positive this week. The overall 2-year comp sales benchmark for full-service restaurants has only been positive during the last two weeks since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • Although dine-in restrictions are easing throughout the country, off-premise sales continue to represent a much higher portion of all full-service sales than they did pre-pandemic. 
  • There was a drop in alcohol sales mix in full-service during the week, although alcohol has been growing its mix in recent months. The increase in off-premise sales is likely a large factor behind the drop in alcohol sales mix. 
  • Off-premise sales mix also remains elevated for limited-service restaurants compared to the pre-COVID norm. 
  • 8 of the 11 regions of the country posted positive 2-year comp sales growth during the week. The best performing regions were the Southwest, Western region, Southeast and Mountain Plains. 
  • The worst performing regions were California, New York-New Jersey and New England. All had negative 2-year comp sales performance for the week. 

 

*Off-premise: includes to-go (takeout), delivery and drive thru (where applicable) 

 

 

Key Insights – March 30, 2021

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Restaurant hiring has picked up since the beginning of the year, but most restaurants are still running with less employees per location than they had in 2019. 
  • In February limited-service restaurants* had a small reduction in non-management employees. With many restaurants in these segments choosing to operate through off-premise** only, it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which fewer employees are needed even if business is booming. 
  • Full-service*** restaurants experienced deeper staffing cuts in February. Although staffing was reduced in the back of house, front of house employees experienced the largest reductions. 
  • It will likely require dine-in restrictions to be completely lifted and additional recovery in consumer confidence for staffing to return to close to its pre-pandemic levels. 

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual
***Off-premise sales defined as to-go, delivery and drive-thru where applicable 
*** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending March 21, 2021)

 

  • This week, the industry lapped the first full week after a national emergency was declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a resultrestaurant comp sales and traffic grew by more than 150% year over year. 
  • The devastating sales and traffic we saw a year ago this week, ended up being the second-worst week for restaurants during the pandemic. 
  • Comp sales on a 2-year basis was also positive this week. St. Patrick’s Day was included during the week this year but was not 2 years ago. This is the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that casual dining and fine dining have posted positive comp sales on a 2-year basis. 
  • The positive boost from St Patrick’s Day can be seen at the daypart level. Using casual dining as an example, all dayparts posted positive comp sales growth over 2 years except for breakfast. The two dayparts with the strongest 2-year growth were mid-afternoon (25%+) and dinner. 
  • Despite the improvement in casual and fine dining, quick service remained the top performing segment during the week based on its 2-year comp sales growth. Fast casual also posted strong, positive results.  
  • All regions of the country were able to improve their 2-year comp sales compared with last week’s results but only 8 regions were able to post positive 2-year comp sales growth. The best performing regions during the week were the Southwest, Texas and Southeast. 
  • Regions with negative 2-year comp sales growth during the week were California, New York-New Jersey and New England. California is still the worst performing region of the country.

Key Insights – March 23, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending March 14, 2021)

 

  • Yearoveryear comp sales and traffic numbers indicate stronger results than we are used to seeing since the COVID-19 pandemic hit over a year ago 
  • Despite double digit year-over-year growththe industry is still far from returning to pre-pandemic sales and traffic levels. 
  • To help our operators more accurately track their performance, Black Box Intelligence has started to publish restaurant performance on a 2-year basis. This allows a comparison of current performance to the same periods in 2019 before the Coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about Financial Intelligence here.  
  • The 2-year comparisons show negative comp sales and traffic for the industry for the week ending March 14 
  • The best performing sales and traffic results in the pandemic era based on the 2-year growth rate was the last week of 2020 and the first two of 2021the first weeks of stimulus checks sento consumers. 
  • This suggests the upcoming third round of stimulus will supply another needed boost for the industry accelerating its road to recovery. 
  • Limited-service* segments both posted positive comp sales on a 2-year basis. 
  • All full-service segments** are still suffering negative comp sales compared to the pre-COVID norm. The best performing full-service segment is still casual dining. 
  • Southeast and Southwest regions achieved small improvement in comp sales growth during the week on a 2-year basis. 
  • California, New England and New York-New Jersey were the worst regions for sales during the week.  

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Sales Recovery and Rising Guest Satisfaction Add Momentum to Restaurant Industry Rebound. Read the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot here.  
  • Guest sentiment continues being relatively strong despite the many challenges facing the industry. 
  • Of the online reviews based on “food” in February, 50% were classified as positive, an improvement in guest satisfaction year over year. 
  • The best performing brands based on “food” in February include: Lazy Dog, Eddie V’s, Seasons 52, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant and True Food Kitchen. To see the best performing brands based on “service” and “intent to return” visit our Guest Satisfaction Snapshot 
  • Online reviews about “service” also became more positive in February than one year ago. 

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
(based on data from December 2020 through February 2021)

 

  • For quick service restaurants, year-over-year growth in spending from Gen Z and millennial guests outpaced the growth of the segmentSpending growth from these younger guests was almost 3 times that of Gen X and baby boomer spending at quick service restaurants during the period. 
  • For fast casual restaurants, year-over-year spending growth was also positive for Gen Z and millennials but was down for Gen X and Boomers. 
  • The declines in full-service spending year over year span across all age groups and across all fullservice segments. 
  • Gen Z and millennial spend held up the best in full-service, while Gen X and Boomers spend declines continue to be far more severe.  

 

Key Insights – March 16, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending March 7, 2021)

  • For the second consecutive week, restaurants experienced aencouraging improvement in yearoveryear comp sales and traffic growth. It was the best week since mid-January. 
  • The week was also the third best for comp sales results since the beginning of the pandemic. It was the second best week in the pandemic era for comp traffic. 
  • Recent results fuel optimism for an accelerated pace of recovery ahead. 

Check out the Restaurant Industry Snapshot for the latest sales and traffic results as well as topline workforce trends. Click here to subscribe and get one month for free

  • Excluding the recent weeks affected by severe winter weather, comp sales each week since the end of 2020 has posted single percentage point improvementsThis is a significant trend in the right direction from the –13.3% comp sales the industry posted in December of 2020. 
  • Limited-service* restaurants returned to positive comp sales for the second consecutive week. 
  • Full-service** brands continued to experience negative comp sales growth. 
  • Fine dining, after months of coming last in terms of segment performance, had a considerable improvement in sales results and was the best performing full-service segment for the week.  
  • All 11 regions of the country experienced negative comp sales growth during the week. 
  • The best performing regions based on comp sales were the Southeast, Southwest, Texas and Mountain Plains. 
  • The worst performing regions based on comp sales were California, New England, New York-New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic. 

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • On average, 60% of guests frequented limited-service restaurants three times or less during the week, while 40% visited four times or more. This mix is encouraging because it is more like what was seen pre-COVID. 
  • Year-over-year weekly transaction growth is still negative, with the most growth in guests visiting one time per week. These low frequency guests are approaching flat growth year over year. 
  • On the other end of the spectrum, higher frequency guests (those visiting limited-service restaurants 4+ times per week) are the main straggler in yearoveryear growth. 

 

Key Insights – March 9, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending February 28, 2021)

 

  • The restaurant industry experienced a strong rebound in comp sales and traffic during the week. This latest improvement notwithstanding, restaurant comp sales and traffic only minorly improved compared to performance during the first week of the month 
  • Saleand traffic growth during the week was worse than any week in January.  
  • Yearoveryear growth in average check per guest/transaction continues to be elevated but remained essentially flat in January and February. 
  • Comp sales for limitedservice* returned to positive territory for the first time since the last week of January. 
  • All segments continue experiencing comp sales declines in fullservice. 
  • Fine dining and upscale casual had significant improvements in comp sales during the week. These were also the only segments that had better comp sales during weecompared to the average performance for all of January. 
  • The mid-afternoon daypart continueoutperforming the other dayparts in comp sales in February. Late-night remains the worst in comp sales results. 
  • The regions with the best comp sales during week were the Southwest, Southeast, Mountain Plains and Texas.  
  • The worst performing regions were California, New England, New York-New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic. All are still suffering double digit losses in year-over-year comp sales. 

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • After losing jobs in November and December and a modest gain in employment in January, the restaurant workforce added 286,000 jobs during February*. This was the biggest monthly jump in restaurant jobs since August. 
  • There are over 2 million fewer restaurant jobs than there were a year ago. 
  • Staffing levels per restaurant location are still down compared to 2019.  
  • Staffing cuts are much larger in full-service restaurants than in limited-service. For full-service restaurants, front-of-house staffing cuts were more than double that of back-of-house employees during January. 

*source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 

 

Policy Considerations


Provided by Align Public Strategies

 

Black Box Workforce Intelligence clients receive detailed monthly updates from Align as part of their subscription – learn more about Black Box Workforce Intelligence here

  • The restaurant industry was the big winner in the Senate-passed $1.9 trillion Stimulus Package this past weekend. According to the Washington Post, “the restaurant industry emerged as the bill’s biggest private-sector winner. The package establishes a $28.6 billion revitalization fund for restaurants that will dole out grants to help them cover pandemic-related revenue losses, with businesses eligible for up to $5 million each. Kudos to the Industry Public Affairs teams. 
  • Eight Democrats voted against an amendment raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. That is a major blow toward progressives within the party and we can expect significant infighting within the party going forward with the White House caught in the middle. 
  • The industry is now in a direct food fight with the Centers for Disease Control. Some major states are aggressively reopening while, at the same time, the CDC is equally as aggressively saying that is the wrong thing to do. Be careful what you wish for – with activist Attorneys General involved in the space (and the Trial Bar right behind them) brands need to be smart. 

 

Learn more about Align Public Strategies here

 

Key Insights – March 2, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending February 21, 2021)

 

  • Restaurant comp sales and traffic dropped significantly this week, mostly due to severe and unprecedented winter weather affecting the country. 
  • Both comp sales and traffic declined by almost 7 percentage points compared to just two weeks ago, making it the worst week recorded since mid-June 2020. 
  • The worst performing states for comp sales were Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Comp sales for these states fell drastically (3– 56 percentage points) compared to the week ending February 7. 
  • Georgia, North and South Carolina, Utah, Idaho and Alabama had the strongest comp sales during the week. 
  • For the second consecutive week, comp sales growth for all industry segments was negative. The last time the industry saw two weeks like this was early May 2020. 
  • Limited-service* segments remain top performers in comp sales despite the latest declines and continue outperforming the rest of the industry by a wide margin.  
  • Fine dining was the best performing segment in full-service** during the weekAs fine dining has been the segment hardest hit by the pandemic, we have not seen this for several monthsThis may be the result of Valentine’s Day dining getting postponed due to the snowstorms and the occasion being celebrated the following week. 
  • The rapid slowdown in sales has not only come from declining dine-in. Off-premise*** sales growth year over year also slowed down in recent weeks for both full-service and limited-service restaurants. 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining
*** Off-premise sales defined as to-go, delivery, and drive-thru where applicable 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

  • While full-service restaurant transactions remain below pre-pandemic levels across all frequency buckets, the recovery of higher frequency guestshas the furthest to go. 
  • Pre-pandemic, higher frequency guests made up just over a fifth of full-service consumers; this bucket currently trails the prior level by 3%. 
  • Nonetheless, there are some positive signsHigher frequency guest transaction growth has steadily improved the last two months. 
  • During January 2021, transaction growth by consumers who visited full-service restaurants weekly or bi-monthly (less than five and more than one time in a month) improved the most. 
  • Accounting for just over a third of all guests, the category that has recovered the most overall since the pandemic began is onetimepermonth full-service restaurant guests. 

 

*High frequency guests – 5 visits or more per month 

Key Insights – February 23, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending February 14, 2021)

 

  • Year-over-year comp sales and traffic performance posted the worst results for restaurants since the week of Christmas. 
  • Winter weather has been a driving factor behind the industry’s downturn. Texas was the second worst performing region based on comp sales during the week (only behind California). Winter conditions hit the state on the last day of the week; nonetheless, the effect of the weather occurring on Valentine’s Day had a much bigger impact than it would have on a typical Sunday.  
  • of the 11 regions improved comp sales compared to the previous week but Texas and the Southwest suffered a drop of almost 25 percentage points year over year. 
  • All industry segments experienced negative comp sales, including those in limited-service* who had consistently been posting growth in recent weeks. 
  • Despite negative sales performance, fine dining and upscale casual posted an improvement in their results last week.  
  • Fine dining had its second-best week since early November 2020, the best being the week of New Year’s Daysuggesting some pent-up demand for special occasions and events. 

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments 

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Food expenditures continue to capture a greater consumer share of wallet during the pandemic than they did prior to the pandemic 
  • Traditional grocery has been the main driver of this food share increase, with limited-service restaurants also increasing their share, offset by losses from full-service** restaurants.  
  • In January, overall food share of total consumer spending increased compared with December, with all three main food categories improving.  
  • Limited-service and full-service restaurants posted their highest share of wallet in three months during January, while traditional grocery’s share was its best since May 2020. 

 

Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse

Key Insights – February 16, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending February 7, 2021)

 

  • Restaurant comp sales and traffic growth rate fell for the fourth consecutive week. 
  • Despite this softening in sales and traffic, restaurant performance for the first week in February is better than what has been recorded since November 2020. 

Subscribe to the Restaurant Industry Snapshot to view the January results – Restaurant Industry Posts Best Sales and Traffic in Nearly One Year

  • The regions with the biggest declines in comp sales growth were New York-New Jersey and New England. On average, comp sales performance fell by almost 11 percentage points in these regions compared to the previous week. 
  • Limited-service* restaurants experienced a slowdown in their comp sales but are still outperforming the rest of the industry. Once again, both quick service and fast casual posted comp sales growth and their results improved week over week. 
  • Dine-in year-over-year sales growth worsened for the full-service** segments during the week. Casual dining is still the best performing segment in full-service, while fine dining remains the segment with the largest sales losses year over year. 
  • Eight states posted comp sales growth during the week: Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Utah, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Carolina. 
  • The states with the worst comp sales results were New Mexico, Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. The District of Columbia also fell into the worst performing state category. 

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Over 2.3 million restaurant jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic have still not returned, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of January, the industry’s workforce level had not yet returned to its October levels, the peak in restaurant employment in the pandemic era. 
  • In addition to jobs lost due to restaurant closures, there is lower employment in restaurants because staffing par levels are reduced. 
  • As of Q4 of 2020, the staffing cuts per restaurant location are deeper for full-service restaurants than for their limited-service counterparts. The biggest staffing cuts remain among full-service front-of-house employees. These positions experienced staffing cuts in Q4 that were three times larger than the cuts recorded for full-service back-of-house employees. 
  • The median limited-service restaurant brand also continues to operatwith staffing cuts among their non-management staff, but staff reductions are minimal compared with what is now the norm in full-service. 

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Transaction growth for full-service restaurants improved modestly during January compared to December. However, transaction growth remains below September 2020, the best month of the pandemic-era. 
  • The sequential gain was driven by an uptick in weekend (Fri-Sun) transaction growth, which includes an adjustment for the two extra weekend days this month vs. last year.  
  • Over the weekend, mid-sized tickets ($20 to $80) and large orders (above $80) strongly improved compared to last month, the latter posting improvement well above 10 percentage points. Small orders (below $20) failed to improve. 
  • Midweek (Mon-Thu) transaction growth improved slightly vs. December, and like what was observed for the weekend, large orders led the way. 

 


Key Insights – February 9, 2021

 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending January 31, 2021)

 

  • Year-over-year restaurant comp sales and traffic growth declined during the week. 
  • After a strong first week of the year, sales and traffic performance got worse each of the following weeks compared to the previous week.  
  • Despite these drops, restaurants are performing much better in 2021 compared to the numbers recorded in 2020, fueling newfound optimism for recovery this year. 
  • Quick service and fast casual both achieved positive comp sales growth during the week, continuing to greatly outpace all other industry segments. 
  • Fine dining and family dining had the biggest drops in comp sales during the week. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest and Texas were the best performing regions based on comp sales during the week.  
  • The regions with the biggest drops in comp sales were the Mid-Atlantic, New England and down by a much larger margin, California. 

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Despite many of their dining rooms remaining closed, limitedservice* sales and traffic continued to strengthenBlack Box Intelligence analysis revealed the incremental sales growth gained by offering dine-in in these segments is relatively small under the current conditions. 
  • But as off-premise** operations overwhelmingly remain the primary channel for sales in limited-service, there is an uptick in negative sentiment around service.  
  • Increases in negative sentiment around drivethru may be suggestive of capacity constraints.  
  • Speed and pace of service negative mentions are up the most versus last year.  
  • Employees are feeling the strain as more and more online comments involving cashiers and overall staff friendliness are negative in these segments. 

 

* Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments
**Off-Premise: as to-go, delivery and drive-thru (where applicable)

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Full-service* restaurants continued to feel the impact of COVID-related changes in consumer demand and shifting patterns for dine-in activity. This led to persistent sales declines despite the pick-up in off-premise sales. The effect of these consumer shifts is evident when analyzing guest ticket size across Black Box Consumer Intelligence data.   
  • At full-service restaurants, ticket orders $20 and lower (a proxy for the solo guests) represented a lower percent of spend in December compared to the same month a year ago. 
  • December marked the smallest yearoveryear percentage change in sales mix for the $20 and under tickets, which has been gradually improving since April.  
  • A stronger trend for full-service restaurants is a shift towards the $20 to $80 order size as spend from orders greater than $80 also fell. The latter obviously represents large party occasions, which remain severely limited.  
  • In December, spend mix for the $100-$200 order bucket turned negative compared to last year, after notching improvements in August through November, before the most recent wave of COVID cases took shape. 

 

*Full-service – family, casual, upscale and fine dining 

 

Key Insights – February 2, 2021

Voice of the Operator

 

Powered by audience polling during quarterly Black Box Intelligence™ State of the Industry Webinars

 

  • By far, the most pressing challenges facing operators are COVID-19 related. When asked “what keeps you up at night” over 40% of operators answered with additional or continuing pandemic related regulations or vaccine policy planning. Other top-rated concerns included new administration policy changes (minimum wage, benefits, joint employer, etc… see the latest guest blog post on public policy considerations here) and finding enough qualified employees to run their businesses.  
  • When asked about plans surrounding the vaccine, most companies (67%) plan to recommend/encourage their employees to get vaccinated. Some of these companies also plan to provide incentives for employees to get the vaccine. 
  • In July 2020, when asked what companies were focusing on amidst the pandemic, nearly half responded that they were “just trying to survive.” During the Q1 State of the Industry session (January 2021) that number had dropped significantly. Over 75% indicated that they were focused on strategic planning. 

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending January 24, 2021)

 

  • Restaurant sales softened during the week, but performance continued to be much better in January than any other month since March 2020. Comp traffic performance also softened slightly but held up better than sales growth. 
  • Average check growth slowed during the week after three weeks of acceleration in average spending per guest or transaction.  
  • The only segment that is seeing a decline in average spending is fine dining. The reduced mix in alcohol sales is likely a contributing factor. 
  • Growth in off-premise* sales dropped slightly in the last two weeks but remains elevated for limited-service** 
  • The regions with the best comp sales during the week were the Southeast, Mountain Plains and Southwest. Only the Southeast was able to post positive comp sales growth. 
  • The worst performing regions were California, New England and New York-New Jersey. By far, the worst performing region was California where comp sales performance was more than 25 percentage points lower than the next best region. 

 

*Off-premise sales: as to-go, delivery and drive-thru (where applicable)
** Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual segments  

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • One spending pattern that recently shifted was a decrease of small orders ($5-$15 ticket range) in favor of larger orders ($15+)The dollar amount these small order sales represented in limited-service was down by roughly 6% year over year.  
  • Another shift in spending was visible in sales Monday – Thursday. While weekend spend growth was negative, these weekday sales are up significantly year over year. The weekday sales increases can likely be attributed to the larger orders noted above. 

 

 

Key Insights – January 26, 2021

Financial Trends

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending January 17)

 

  • Improvement in restaurant comp sales and traffic performance continued into the second week of 2021. These first two weeks are the best the industry has experienced since early March. 
  • Despite the stronger performance, both comp sales and traffic experienced a small decline this week compared to results posted for last week. 
  • The improvement in restaurant sales has been widespread across the country. All fifty states posted better comp sales results this week with 14 states posting positive comp sales. 
  • Comp sales performance improved in limited-service restaurants* and continues outperforming the rest of the industry. Both quick service and fast casual segments are now consistently achieving positive comp sales growth on a weekly basis. 
  • Full-service restaurants had their comp sales performance drop slightly during the week. Casual dining was the best performing segment in full-service while fine dining continued to lose more sales year over year. 
  • The states with biggest improvements in comp sales compared to their performance four weeks ago are Pennsylvania, Alaska, Minnesota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Iowa and Connecticut. 
  • The states that saw the smallest improvements during the period were Louisiana, Hawaii, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Arizona.  

 

 *Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual 
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining  

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Recent data from Black Box Consumer Intelligence revealed sharp increase in adoption of third-party delivery (3PD) throughout the last quarter of 2020. During Q4 2020, yearoveryear growth in 3PD users jumped over 65% with the strongest growth coming from chain restaurants. 
  •  All generations looked to 3PD as an increasingly attractive alternative to in-restaurant visits. Yet, generational usage varies widely, likely related to overall technology adoption.  
  • Gen Z, the leader in 3PD adoption, not surprisingly continues sporting the largest usage rate as of Q4 2020. At the other end of the spectrum, less than 5% of baby boomers used 3PD during that time. However, boomers experienced the largest user growth rates, up just shy of 90% year over year 
  • Gen Z and Millennials, the earliest adopters of this new technology and delivery channel, also experienced strong gains in users compared to the previous year albeit to a slower degree than late-adopting older generations. 

For a look at restaurant tech and other trends we are watching this year, download out latest free 2021 Guide for Restaurants: 14 Things to Watch.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
  • Guest sentiment for restaurant food, service, ambiance and value was more positive during December compared to December 2019. 
  • The attribute of the restaurant experience that improved the most during the month was ambiance. 
  • The latest data shows a clear connection between restaurant food and service net sentiment and sales performance. Markets with the biggest drops in sales experienced much lower guest sentiment around food and service. The opposite is true for markets that retained restaurant sales dollars at a better rate. 

For more guest sentiment trends check out the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot, Despite Downturn in Sales and Traffic, Restaurants Succeed in Raising Guest Sentiment in December.

Key Insights – January 20, 2021

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Wage growth has varied for hourly employees. Limited-service* has almost no yearoveryear growth while line cooks in full-service** have seen strong wage growth.  
  • There is much more consistency between limited and full-service for restaurant general manger salaries. Base salary for general managers has increased at about the same pace year over year.  
  • There are significant discrepancies between limited and full-service when it comes to annual bonus for restaurant general managers. 
  • Management bonuses for limited-service restaurants have held up quite well as a result of the sector’s performance. On the contrary, full-service general managers are operating in an environment of big sale losses. Consequentlythese general managers are seeing considerable drops in their total take-home pay compared to what they received in 2019. 

*Limited-Service: quick service and fast casual 
** Full-Service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining  

Financial Trends

 

 

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending January 10)

 

  • Comp sales and traffic improved for the second consecutive week, fueling optimism for recovery after a disappointing Q4.  

For more industry performance data visit the Restaurant Industry Snapshot: December Ends 2020 with Exasperating Sales Results; Final Week Offers Reasons for Optimism.

  • Comp sales and traffic for the week were the best for the industry since the pandemic began in mid-March 2020. 
  • Despite this significant upswing the last two weeks, comp sales (and especially comp traffic which is performing considerably worse than sales) are not yet able to post growth on a yearoveryear basis. 
  • New stimulus checks, increased prospect of expanded aid by the new administration and a mild weather for the beginning of the year all could translate into confidence for consumers.  
  • Except for fine dining, full-service* segments improved sales performance the most in the last two weeks.  
  • The last two weeks brought big jumps in dine-in sales for full-service restaurants. But despite these improvements, dine-in still has a long way to go before it returns to pre-pandemic levels. 
  • Off-premise*** sales in full-service have been growing rapidly over the last two weeks outpacing the improvements seen in dine-in. Yearoveryear off-premise sales growth has quickly reverted to levels not seen since the middle of 2020. 
  • Off-premise sales growth also accelerated for limited-service*** brands during the last two weeks, although at a slower rate than full-service.  
  • Three regions of the country posted positive sales growth during week: The Southeast, Mountain Plains and the Southwest.