Restaurant Industry Performance Pulse

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

Weekly Restaurant Insights

 

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 

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™
  • 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 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

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 

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

  • 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 

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence

 

  • 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 

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • 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 

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™
  • 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

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence
  • 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

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence™

 

  • 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

Powered by Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

  • 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

Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • 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

*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.  
  • The worst performing regionwere California, New England and New York-New Jersey. 

 

***Off premise: restaurant to-go, delivery and drive-thru where applicable 

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
  • As offpremise spending rose rapidly for full-service restaurantsan analysis on what menu items were mentioned revealed that ribs received the highest number of positive comments and positive net sentiment.  
  • Menu items with negative sentiment for full-service restaurants are desserts, fries, pizza and flatbreadsLimited-service brands, however, get strong positive reviews for burgers and fries.   
  • Despite typically being associated with off-premise consumption, the standout in negative reviews for limitedservice is pizza and flatbread. These are items that generate a lot of activity online and guests have high expectations for them.

The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot (free report) will be published tomorrow morning. You can sign up to receive a notification when it goes live by filling out the form at the bottom of this webpage.

 

 

Key Insights – January 12, 2021

 

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending January 3)

 

  • Comp sales for the week improved and returned to the yearoveryear growth rates we saw in the beginning of November. 
  • Comp traffic growth also improved but not at the same rate as comp sales. 
  • Average spending per guest increased sharply during the week. 
  • Casual dining, fine dining, upscale casual and family dining saw the biggest jumps in comp sales improvements during the week. This suggests pent up demand amplified by the holiday, and perhaps also a boost in consumer confidence from second-round stimulus checks, translated into better week for restaurants. Next week’s results will be crucial in determining if this was a temporary jump or a more permanent shift in the sales and traffic growth trends. 

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  • Dine-in comp sales growth remains negative for both limited* and full-service** restaurants, but the latest week saw a considerable improvement for full-service brands.  
  • Limited-service dine-in sales growth dropped compared to the previous week. 
  • Off-premise*** sales growth accelerated sharply for all restaurant segments. 
  • Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama, Utah, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and South Dakota all achieved positive comp sales growth and were the best performing states during the week. 
  • The worst performing states were Washington, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, Alaska, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois. The District of Columbia’s performance would also place them on the list of worst performing states. 

 

The Restaurant Industry Snapshot will be released later this week, subscribe here before prices increase. Restaurant operators receive a 75% discount, email shop@blackboxintelligence.com for your special discount code.

 

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

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • As of Q4 2020, African American spend growth at full-service restaurants fell the least among other ethnic/racial cohorts, well above the spending of all others. Their spend has also improved the most since Q2 2020. 
  • Compared to Q3, African AmericansHispanics and Asians all strongly increased spend growth. The improvement in full-service restaurant spending was roughly 5-8% percentage points. 
  • Spend growth was flat vs. the previous quarter for the Caucasian cohort – which now ranks third out of these four groups in terms of full service spend growth recovery.  
  • The Asian cohort remains in the fourth spot as the racial/ethnic group with the biggest decline in yearoveryear spending at full-service restaurants. 

Download the latest guide: 6 Ways to Use Consumer Intelligence in 2021

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
  • December saw a significant improvement in restaurant guest sentiment for to-go offerings in both full-service and limited-service restaurants. 
  • In full-service, the improvement in sentiment coincides with an acceleration of yearoveryear growth of to-go sales. As restaurants saw an upswing in their to-go sales, they were able to better meet their guests’ expectations. 
  • On the contrary, delivery guest sentiment in full-service worsened slightly during DecemberDelivery sentiment in limited-service saw only a modest improvement compared to the previous month. 
  • Dine-in sales continue to see the best guest sentiment compared to the off-premise sales channels.  
  • There continues being a wide gap in guest sentiment scores between dine-in sales and to-go sentiment, and delivery sentiment remains at the bottomIn full-service, the gap between dine-in and the rest is even wider. 

 

 

Key Insights – January 6, 2021

 

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence
  • The Coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the restaurant workforce according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  
  • The number of restaurant jobs lost due to the pandemic remained at about 2.1 million employees during October and November. Employment in restaurants only fell slightly during November compared to the previous month. 
  • The weak labor market has fueled an environment in which wage pressures have been softened for frontline team members in limited-service restaurants; one of the largest groups of employees in the industry. 
  • Average hourly wages for limited-service frontline employees remained flat year over year at the national level during the third quarter. 
  • For full-service line cooks the story has been different. Average hourly wages for cooks increased rapidly year over year.  
  • Back of house positions were harder to fill before the pandemic and now may require some additional pay to attract and retain the best talent.  
  • As staffing levels were cut in full-service restaurants, those that remained were likely the most seasoned and tenured cooks, which also contributed to average wages showing bigger increases. 

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending December 27)
  • Comp sales and traffic for week were the worst experienced by the industry since mid-June. 
  • Average restaurant guest checks continue growing at a much faster pace year over year than the pre-pandemic norm. 
  • The best performing segments during the week based on comp sales were quick service and fast casual. Both segments achieved positive growth year over year. 
  • The upscale casual and fine dining segments had the worst comp sales results during the week. 
  • Fine dining brands experienced an improvement in sales during the week of Christmas. Although their sales were still down considerably year over year, the sales decline was much smaller during this holiday week, likely the effect of pentup demand for celebrating special occasions.  
  • After slowing down for the last four weeks, sales growth for off-premise* year over year accelerated during week for limited-service** restaurants.  
  • For full-service*** restaurants, off-premise sales growth declined and was the smallest it has been in the last eight weeks.  
  • The best performing regions of the country based on comp sales during the week were the Southeast, Southwest, Florida and Texas. 
  • The worst performing regions were California, New England, New York-New Jersey, and the Mid-Atlantic.  
  • In many of the poorly performing regions, colder winter weather seems to be a strong factor. But for California, which was the worst performing region amid its dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases, the tighter restrictions due to the virus are likely the driving factor. Comp sales growth has fallen by almost 25 percentage points compared to California’s performance the week before Thanksgiving. 

 

*Off premise: restaurant to-go, delivery and drive-thru where applicable  

**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™

 

  • As restaurants look to technology for reduced customer friction, investments in online ordering continue changing the way guests order and pay. The ongoing pandemic has sped up this shift as consumers adopt new technologies to reduce health risks. 
  • The adoption of fullservice restaurant patrons to online payment has been quite pronounced. Beginning 2019 at a single-digit mix, it reached a low double-digit level before the pandemic and currently online payments represent roughly a quarter of sales.  
  • Just before the pandemic online sales were growing at 50% year over year and are currently tracking roughly 100%. 
  • Limitedservice restaurants are also witnessing a strong uptick in online payments. As early adopters of the new technology relative to their full-service counterparts, limitedservice restaurants are farther along the adoption cycle With an online mix in the mid-teens as of early 2019, online payments are currently tracking at double that level.  
  • The yearoveryear growth rate of online sales in limited-service is also roughly double the pre-pandemic levels. 
 
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Key Insights – December 22, 2020

 

Consumer Trends

Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Total spending through third party delivery more than doubled by October and November compared to the 2020 pre-pandemic period.  
  • Both limited-service* and full-service** restaurants have more than doubled their third-party delivery sales during the period, the growth has been significantly larger for limited-service brands. 
  • Share of total third-party delivery spending has been growing for limited-service; during October and November, limited-service captured almost $3 of sales in third-party delivery for every dollar spent in full-service. 
  • Some demographics have seen an increase in their total third-party delivery spend compared to the pre-pandemic period including those with an annual income under $60K, ethnically diverse populations (African Americans and Hispanics) and households with children 
  • Younger adults (18-24) and older consumers (65+) have also increased their third-party delivery spending 

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending December 13)

 

  • The effect of the escalation of dine-in restrictions in California has been dramatic. The drop in comp sales in California compared to the previous week was almost 20 percentage points. By comparison, the region with the second-largest drop in comp sales only experienced an 8 percentage point decline.  
  • For five straight weeks now, comp sales have worsened compared to the previous week. 
  • With the sharp drop in comp sales during this week, the industry had its worst week since mid-June. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic has also been deteriorating. Comp traffic for the week was the worst seen since mid-July.  
  • The drop in sales was larger than the drop in traffic and we also saw a deceleration in average spend per guest. 
  • Despite a slowdown in sales for the industry, quick service is still achieving positive comp sales growth; and three weeks into December, fast casual is having its best month since before the pandemic. 
  • All full-service* segments saw a deterioration in comp sales growth during the week; upscale casual experiencing the biggest declines 
  • Year over year growth in off-premise** sales during week was the highest it has been since the beginning of October. 
  • The best performing regions based on comp sales during the week were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Southwest. 
  • The worst performing regions based on comp sales were California, New England, the Western region and the Mid-Atlantic. 

 

*Full service: casual dining, family dining, upscale casual and fine dining 

**Off-premise: restaurant to-go, delivery and drive-thru where applicable  

 

Key Insights – December 17, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending December 6)

 

  • The industry continues facing a much more challenging environment in recent weeks as indicated in larger sales declines. Comp sales for the last three weeks have been the worst for the industry since early August. 
  • Yearoveryear restaurant comp sales growth improved during the most recent week; this is most likely attributed to Thanksgiving negatively impacting sales last week. 
  • Restaurant comp sales were worse compared to what was reported two weeks ago, evidence that comp sales are trending in the wrong direction. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic followed the same trend, but traffic fell at a faster pace than sales over the last two weeks. 
  • The drop in comp sales was larger for full-service* restaurants than it was for limited-service**. 
  • Despite the drop in sales during the week, comp sales for limited-service restaurants remained positive year over year during the week. 
  • As COVID case numbers continue to rise and colder weather halts outdoor dining imany regions of the country, off-premise sales*** in full-service restaurants are picking up again. Off-premise sales growth year over year during the week was as high as it has been in the last nine weeks. 
  • Off-premise sales in limited-service restaurants remain elevated and their growth rate trend remains relatively flat in recent months. 
  • All states experienced negative comp sales during the week, but 16 were able to improve their comp sales results over the last two weeks. The states which made the biggest gains during the period were New Mexico, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, Utah, Maryland, South Dakota, Idaho and Montana. The District of Columbia’s improvement would also place them among those with biggest gains in comp sales. 
  • The states that saw the biggest drops in comp sales over the last two weeks were Alaska, Minnesota, Kentucky, Colorado, Nevada, Michigan, Washington, California, Nebraska and Alabama. 

 

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

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • A major theme on the mind of restaurant guests continues to be cleanliness, with guests giving high marks to the industry. The percentage of positive mentions around “clean” has hit a new peak in December and its overall net sentiment gained 10 percentage points in October and November compared to the prior year. 
  • Guest chatter regarding the overall restaurant experience has been growing over the last few months, suggesting that some guests are looking beyond safety once again. Mentions based on experience, atmosphere and attentiveness are reaching the highest levels since the pandemic began. 
  • Similarly, large party chatter has also made a comeback. Restaurant guests are using words such as family, group and friends more frequently than other periods during the pandemic. This movement may also underscore a renewed focus on the experience component of a restaurant. But with the holiday season upon us, there is also significant pent-up demand for gathering with family and friends

 

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Key Insights – December 11, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending November 29)

 

  • Comp sales for week were the worst experienced by the industry since mid-July. This marks three consecutive weeks where year over year sales growth has declined compared to the previous week.
  • Only quick service and fast casual were able to achieve positive comp sales growth during the week. All other segments continue to experience negative comp sales growth. For a detailed look into the state of the casual dining segment, check out our most recent report here.
  • Comp traffic was also the worst results for the industry since mid-July.
  • Comp sales declined slightly more than traffic during the week, as growth in average spending per guest dropped during the week.
  • Off-premise sales*, as a percentage of total restaurant sales, has been increasing again over the last three weeks, with the highest increases happening in full-service restaurants**.
  • In recent weeks there has been a very sharp decrease in dine-in year over year sales growth for full-service restaurants. There has been also a drop in limited-service***, but it has been much more moderate.
  • All eleven regions of the country had negative comp sales growth during the week.
  • The regions with the best comp sales results were the Southeast, Florida, Texas and the Southwest. Weather seems to now be a bigger factor in restaurant sales, especially since many restaurants have been relying more on outdoor dining.
  • The regions with the biggest declines in sales during the week were California, New England, the Western region and New York-New Jersey. In California, the spike in COVID cases is likely the driving factor behind a steep drop in sales growth during the last two weeks.

*Off premise: restaurant to-go, delivery, and drive-thru where applicable

**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™
  • COVID fatigue among consumers continues to be evident. Despite the rapid increase in new COVID cases, the number of online mentions of COVID-related terms in restaurant reviews and online comments continues to drop.
  • Online guest sentiment in November offered insight into some best performing menu items.
  • The Black Box Guest Intelligence data continues to show restaurants meeting guest expectations, more forgiving guests and guests that continue to rally behind and support restaurants.
  • Guest sentiment based on restaurant food, service and intent to return became more positive year over year during November.
  • For more information on guest trends please visit the November edition of our Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot.

 

Consumer Trends


Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
  • Download our latest [Free Guide]: 6 Was to Utilize Consumer Intelligence in 2021.
  • For the Thanksgiving holiday, consumers did the lion’s share of their grocery shopping a week earlier this year, likely to avoid large crowds as COVID cases are spiking across the U.S.
  • Restaurants continue to lose share of stomach to grocers, and the Thanksgiving holiday was no different.
  • Consumer behaviors continue showing more efficient shopping – higher average tickets while transaction counts are down vs. last year. This is probably the effect of consumers trying to reduce their shopping trips as much as possible.
  • Grocery stores are seeing the largest uptick in average ticket trends, followed by limited-service and full-service restaurants.
  • Year over year change in number of transactions at limited-service restaurants and groceries are down roughly the same level, while full-service restaurants continue to feel a disproportionate drop in transactions.

 

Key Insights – December 4, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending November 22)

 

  • Restaurant comp sales dropped to their lowest level since the first week of August, fueling fears for another restaurant downturn as COVID cases rise throughout the country and colder weather translates into less opportunities for outdoor dining. 
  • Read more on November’s results in the latest Restaurant Industry Snapshot: November Restaurant Industry Sales Signal a More Challenging Environment is Ahead.  
  • Reported comp sales every week in November were worse than any of the preceding 8 weeks back to the beginning of September. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic performance also softened during the week, the worst for the industry since the second week in August. 
  • Although change in average spending per guest year over over continues to be high compared to the pre-COVID norm, the last 2 weeks have seen a deceleration in average spend growth per guestIn fact, growth in average guest check had not been this low since early July. 
  • Dine-in sales growth fell for both limited-service* and full-service** restaurants during the week, but it was full-service that suffered the biggest losses. 
  • Yearoveryear growth in off-premise*** sales dropped for both limited-service and full-service restaurants during the week. This creates concerns that consumers may be becoming more cautious and shifting some of their food spend away from restaurants as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana had the best comp sales results during the week. 
  • The states with worst comp sales were New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Alaska, Michigan, Vermont, California and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia’s sales performance would also qualify among those worst performing states. 

 

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

 

Consumer Trends


Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Download our latest [Free Guide]: 6 Was to Utilize Consumer Intelligence in 2021. 
  • Full-service restaurants have been enduring the worst declines in sales due to the pandemic and has lost the most “share of stomach”.  
  • Older consumers (65+) continue seeing the biggest declines in their number of full-service restaurant visits year over year. Th55-64 age cohort with the second largest drops. 
  • The higher the income level, the larger the drop in full-service restaurant visits year over year. 
  • There are similar drops in full-service restaurant visits for Caucasian and Hispanic consumers, but the number of African Americans spending at these restaurants has held up much better. 
  • Homeowners have seen a slightly bigger decrease in full-service visits compared with those who rent their homes. 

 

Workforce Trends


Powered by Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of October there were still over 2 million restaurant jobs that have been lost 
  • The rate at which new jobs have been added in recent months suggests it will take years for the restaurant workforce to return to its pre-pandemic level. 
  • Those restaurants in operation as of October were still staffing each location with less employees on average than they did pre-COVID. See more staffing strategies (plus comp, benefits and much more) in the 2020 edition of the Total Rewards Survey Results 
  • Although both full-service and limited-service restaurants are operating under lower staffing levels per location on average, the cuts continue to be deeper in full-service restaurants. Front of the house has been hit the hardest in terms of staffing cuts. 

 

Key Insights – November 20, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Powered by Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending November 8)

 

  • Restaurant comp sales for week were the second worst experienced by the industry since late August (the worst week was the week ending November 1 which was negatively impacted by Halloween being on a Saturday).  
  • The poor sales results can most likely be attributed to the fact that the general election took place during the week. 
  • While the industry experienced poor sales resultslimited-service* performance improved if compared to comp sales two weeks ago. Quick service and fast casual both improved their comp sales performance during the week.  
  • Fine dining and upscale casual saw the biggest drops in comp sales performance compared to where they were two weeks ago. This is also reminiscent of the first months of the pandemic when these segments saw the biggest drops in sales performance. 
  • Yearoveryear growth in off-premise** sales spiked up during the week. Off-premise sales growth during the week was the highest it has been in the last 9 weeks for limited service and the last 6 weeks for full service*** restaurants.  
  • Thirty-four states saw their restaurant yearoveryear comp sales worsen during the last 2 weeks. The hardest hit states were Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Vermont, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Wyoming, MassachusettsConnecticut and New Hampshire. 
  • The states that improved their comp sales the most in the last 2 weeks were: South Dakota, Montana, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Alabamand Louisiana. Also, among the most improved is the District of Columbia. 

 

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

 

Consumer Trends


Powered by Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Download our latest [Free Guide]: 6 Was to Utilize Consumer Intelligence in 2021. 
  • During October, the number of unique consumers that spent some of their money at restaurants was lower than it was a year ago. The same holds true for consumers with children in their household as it does for those without children. 
  • The loss in the number of consumers spending at restaurants has been lower throughout the pandemic for those with children in their household. Consumers with children had smaller decreases in visiting both full-service and limited-service restaurants. 
  • Limited-service traffic declines are likely not noticeable as check growth in this category has been much higher, offsetting the drops in traffic. 
  • For full service, traffic has been slow to recover, and a considerable number of customers have not returned to the category.  
  • The gap between the loss of consumers with and without children in their household has been larger for full-service restaurants, with consumers without children seeing the biggest drops in traffic. During October, the yearoveryear drop in traffic for those without children was 5 percentage points worse than for those with children. 

 

Workforce Trends


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  • As of September, restaurants that are open continued operating with lower staffing levels per location than they did before the pandemic. 
  • Although the drops in staffing levels have been relatively widespread, the biggest cuts remain in the front of the house for full-service restaurants. 

 

 

Key Insights – November 13, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending November 1)

 

  • Yearoveryear comp sales results were the worst experienced by the industry in the last ten weeks. 
  • Full-service* brands saw their comp sales fall during the week while limited-service** restaurants had flat comp sales compared to the week prior. 
  • Halloween falling on a Saturday could be to blame for most of the decline in sales during the week for the industry overall and particularly for full-service restaurants 
  • COVID-19 cases reaching record levels is hurting restaurant sales and we expect that to continue, especially if government regulations begin to tighten again. 
  • Colder weather, which is an obstacle for most outdoor dining in large regions of the country, is expected to also be a factor going forward. 
  • All regions of the country saw a decline in their yearoveryear comp sales growth during the week. 
  • Regions that had the biggest drops in sales were New England, New York-New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest; all regions where colder weather could be a bigger factor. 
  • The smallest declines in comp sales during the week were in Mountain Plains, Florida, the Southeast and the Western region. 

 

*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™

 

  • Despite stalled growth in sales, restaurants saw strong guest sentiment in October. Read more in the Restaurant Guest Satisfaction snapshot HERE.   
  • Guest sentiment based on restaurant food, service and intent to return were all more positive during October this year than October 2019. 
  • Although the number of new positive COVID cases is spiking at an alarming rate, the online chatter centered around restaurant brands has seen a sharp decrease in the number of terms directly associated with the pandemic.  

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • As of October, grocery’s share of food spend still represented the category with the biggest gains compared to its average for January and February of this year. 
  • Limited-service restaurants also saw an increase in their share of food spend in October compared to their pre-pandemic norm, though the increase was not as big as that observed for grocery sales. 
  • Full-service restaurants continue to experience a loss in share compared to its pre-COVID norm. 
  • Both full-service and limited-service restaurants gained some ground in their “share of stomach” during October compared to their share in August. 
  • However, there are some signs based on the two weeks ending November 1 that there may be a reversal in the trend for rising restaurant share, particularly due to full-service restaurants beginning to lose ground again. The previously discussed factors of rising COVID cases and colder weather may be behind the reversal in the trend.

 

Key Insights – November 6, 2020

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Turnover for restaurant hourly (non-management) employees and restaurant managers increased again during September. 
  • The impact of staff reductions at the restaurant unit level are expected to be felt for the next twelve months from, especially in the case of non-management employees. 
  • According to the Black Box Intelligence 2020 Total Rewards Survey, over a quarter of all restaurant companies reported eliminating bonuses for their restaurant managers in 2020.  

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending October 25)

 

  • Yearoveryear comp sales growth saw minimal growth compared to previous weeks. See more results from October in the just published Restaurant Industry Snapshot. 
  • The decline in sales growth speaks to a sales recovery that has significantly slowed down in October. 
  • A driving factor behind the slowdown may be the spike in COVID-19 cases, which started trending up again around the same time frame in October.  
  • Comp sales growth posted by the industry during the week was the second-worst results in the last six weeks. 
  • Comp traffic growth was the worst results experienced by the industry in the last six weeks. 
  • Dine-in sales growth year over year had been improving for full-service* restaurants since the end of July. However, dine-in sales growth flattened since mid-September and has not seen much improvement since. 
  • Off-premise sales***, although still growing at historically high rates for full-service restaurants, have continued to slowly taper off. 
  • For limited-service** restaurants, after seeing dine-in sales growth improve steadily since April, the last six weeks have begun to show the upward momentum slowing.  
  • Off-premise sales growth remains high for limited-service and continues to be a key driver of its success. 
  • All regions of the country experienced negative comp sales growth during the week. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest, the Western region and Mountain Plains were the best performing regions of the country during the week. 
  • The regions with the biggest declines in sales were California, New England, New York-New Jersey and the Midwest. 

 

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

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Consumers between 18 and 34 years old represent a larger percentage of fullservice restaurant sales since the start of the pandemic.  
  • These younger and older (55 years and older) cohorts represent roughly the same share of spend, in stark contrast to the start of 2020 where older consumers spent roughly 50% more than their younger counterparts. 
  • In October, as the full-service segment continues to grapple with dine-in business challenges during the pandemic, spend growth remains negative for all age groups, including younger consumers. 
  • Older consumers have clearly cut back at fullservice restaurants, but they have offset some of the decline with increased spend at limitedservice brands. 
  • The share of spend by all age groups at limitedservice restaurants is now roughly the same as earlier in the year, before the pandemic. 

 

Key Insights – October 29, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending October 18)

 

  • For the second consecutive week, yearoveryear comp sales growth was worse compared to previous week’s performance. 
  • Comp sales for the week were the worst in the last five weeks and became the second worst week in almost two months. 
  • As the number of COVID cases rise in many areas of the country and colder weather makes outdoor dining much more challenging for restaurants, upcoming months will see some more starts and stops in its path to recovery. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic growth year over year also deteriorated during the week. 
  • The best performing segments during the week based on comp sales were quick service and fast casual (see the latest report on the State of the Fast Casual Segment HERE. Limited service* segments continue outperforming the rest of the industry by a wide margin. 
  • Yearoveryear growth in off-premise sales** has slowed down in recent weeks for limited-service brands. The off-premise growth during week was the lowest recorded since late April. 
  • Off-premise sales growth in full-service*** restaurants also continued its steady decline which started in early August. 
  • Despite the slowdown in yearoveryear growth, off-premise sales growth continues to be highly elevated for both limited-service and full-service restaurants compared with its pre-pandemic norm. The sales mix of off-premise also continues to be high for limited and full-service restaurants. 
  • The only daypart that has been able to achieve comp sales growth is mid-afternoon. The daypart with the worst comp sales performance continues to be late-night. 
  • Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina were the states with the best comp sales during the week. 
  • Alaska, Hawaii, California, North Dakota, Wyoming and the District of Columbia had the worst comp sales during the week. 

 

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

 

Workforce Trends

Insights from the 2020 Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ Total Rewards Report

 

  • The average restaurant company reduced its non-management and management staff between March and June 2020 (for actual staffing level numbers, please see the 2020 report). Most restaurant companies do not expect to return to their pre-COVID staffing levels in the next 12 months.  
  • At the corporate office, marketing, human resources and accounting were the departments that saw the most reductions in their headcount. 
  • For more information and detail about the 2020 Total Rewards Survey resultsclick here.  

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

  • Guest sentiment for delivery remains lower than for to-go and much lower than for dine-in. Despite the pandemic and the incremental reliance on delivery, guests still tend to perceive it as the least positive experience. 
  • Online reviews and comments reveal in many cases a bad to-go or delivery experience is lowering the guest’s stated intent to return to the restaurant even for dine-in. 

 

Key Insights – October 23, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending October 11)

 

  • After yearoveryear sales growth improved during each of the last three weeks. Comp sales for the week ending October 11 were the worst results reported since the second week of September. 
  • Comp traffic growth year over year also declined during the week, but the drop was not as big as the drop for comp sales. 
  • Average spending per guest also slowed down during the week. Yearoveryear growth for this metric was the lowest it has been since early September. 
  • Change in average spend per guest year over year declined for all segments compared to the previous week. The biggest drops were experienced by quick service and fast casual. See the State of the Fast Casual Segment in our most recent report. 
  • Although at a slower pace than limited-service*, full-service** restaurants also continue to experience growth in average guest checks greater than the growth they experienced all last year. The only exception is fine dining, which has seen little growth in guest checks year over year as a result of COVID. 
  • Alcohol sales in full-service restaurants have been slowly improving since the beginning of July. However, they are still trailing behind food sales growth by a wide margin. 

 

 *Limited service: quick service and fast casual 

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

 

Workforce Trends

Insights from the 2020 Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ Total Rewards Report

 

  • On average, 70% of employees that work for the corporate office of a restaurant company are currently working from home. 
  • Most restaurant companies are planning on continuing to make changes to their corporate office workplace practices over the next 12 months in response to the pandemic.  
  • Only 11% of restaurant companies believe they will return to the same corporate office setting or practices they had preCOVID. 
  • Restaurant companies estimated that, on average, about 1 in 3 corporate office employees will still be working from home a year from now. 
  • For more information and detail about the 2020 Total Rewards Survey, click here.  

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • Full-service restaurants are among the categories of consumer spending that saw the most growth in Q3 compared to spending in Q2. Full-service restaurants were among the most negatively affected during Q2. 
  • Among those consumer spending categories that saw the biggest declines during Q3 compared to the previous quarter were online grocery, traditional grocery and wine and liquor store sales. These categories that grew very rapidly at the beginning of the pandemic but are now seeing the reversal in the trend.

 

 

 

Key Insights – October 15, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending October 4)

 

  • The week ending October 4th was the best performing week since early March.  
  • Restaurant sales & traffic results show upward momentum; still ground to cover. 
  • After four weeks of stagnant sales performance, year over year restaurant comp sales saw 1+ percentage point improvement over the previous week. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic experienced a comparable improvement during the week, suggesting that restaurant momentum may be picking up. 
  • All industry segments improved their comp sales performance during the week. See the most up-to-date metrics on the State of the Fast Casual Segment in our latest report.  
  • Fine dining and family dining, segments that have been underperforming the most in recent months, improved their comp sales performance the most during the week. 
  • Off-premise* sales in full-service** restaurants continues to grow at a high pace as a result of the pandemic. Although the rate of growth had slowed since the end of July, it started accelerating again at the beginning of September and has been trending up since. 
  • Off-premise sales are growing at an accelerated pace for ***limited service brands. Contrary to full-service, off-premise sales growth has remained fairly constant since May at a high rate. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest and Western region were the best performing regions of the country based on comp sales during the week. 
  • New England, California, New York-New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic were the worst performing regions based on comp sales. 

 

* Off-premise: delivery, to-go and drive-thru where applicable
**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 Improves; New Drivers Behind Dining Decisions 
  • “Food” has shown the highest positive sentiment in September for limited service brands.  
  • For full-service brands, “ambiance” topped the charts with the most positive sentiment in September. 
  • Guest sentiment for “Food” and “Service” showed a considerable year-over-year improvement. 
  • Los Angeles was market with the most positive sentiment based on restaurant ambiance during September. 

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • Turnover continues rising. Rolling 12-month turnover rates for both restaurant hourly employees and managers increased again during August.  
  • Quick service staffing levels for non-management employees per restaurant are now consistent with the pre-COVID norm. However, the median fast casual restaurant chain is still operating their restaurants with a lower number of employees per location. 
  • Full-service restaurant staffing levels have made some gains since the height of the pandemic, but the median restaurant is still being operated with a reduced staff compared with the norm before the pandemic. The biggest cuts remain in the front of the house, but back of house staff continues to be lower than the norm. 

 

Key Insights – October 9, 2020

 

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending September 27)
  • Restaurant yearoveryear comp sales growth declined compared to last week’s performance for the second time in the last four weeks. The drop was driven by a deceleration in average guest spending growth. Comp traffic had a small uptick during the week. 
  • Despite uneven sales performance during September, yearoveryear sales growth during the month was an improvement over August 
  • September was the best month for the industry since February, view the latest performance metrics in: Restaurant Sales & Traffic Results Show Upward Momentum; Still Ground to Cover. 
  • Quick service continues being the top performing segment based on sales growth. The segment has now posted 22 consecutive months of positive comp sales growth.  
  • Fast casual continues to be the next best performing segment. Though achieving much better comp sales growth than full-service segments*, fast casual is still experiencing sales losses year over year. 
  • Casual dining was the best of the full-service segments based on comp sales growth. 
  • Off-premise sales continue to capture a larger share of total sales than their pre-COVID norm for both full-service and limited-service** restaurants. 
  • Although steadily recovering since July, alcoholic beverage yearoveryear sales in full-service restaurants remain trailing food sales by a very wide margin. 
  • Mississippi, Georgia, Montana, Alabama, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah were the best performing states based on comp sales results during the week.  
  • Hawaii, Alaska, District of Columbia, Vermont, California, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming had the worst comp sales during the week. 

 

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

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • COVID-19 served as a catalyst for third-party delivery (3PD) companies (DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates, Grubhub) to accelerate their already strong growth. 3PD sales jumped +75% from mid-March to mid-April when most restaurant dining rooms across the nation were closed and consumers were limited to off-premise options. 
  • These 3PD services have been able to capitalize on this surge and sales continue to grow even as many restaurants have since reopened their dining rooms. In September 2020, 3PD sales were 28% higher than they were in April and 138% higher than they were in January of this year. 
  • In September, 68% of sales on 3PD apps went to limited-service restaurants with the remaining 32% going to full-service restaurants.  

 

 

 

Key Insights – October 2, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending September 20)

 

  • The restaurant industry’s sales continue to improve, but the pace at which they are improving has slowed down to a crawl. 
  • Comp sales for week were only 0.2 percentage points better than the average reported for the two previous weeks. 
  • Restaurant comp traffic improvement was marginally better than for sales during the week. 
  • Yearoveryear growth in average spending per guest continues to be elevated compared to the pre-pandemic period.  
  • Largest increases in average guest check growth continue to be in quick service and fast casual. The segments with lowest increases in check growth during the week were upscale casual and fine dining. 
  • Limited-service* restaurants continue outperforming the rest of the industry by a wide margin based on comp sales growth.  
  • In full-service**, casual dining has emerged as the clear winner based on comp sales growth. 
  • The Southeast, Southwest and Texas were the best performing regions of the country based on comp sales during the week. 
  • California, New York-New Jersey, New England and Florida regions had the worst comp sales results. 
  • The next Restaurant Industry Snapshot detailing the latest sales, traffic and workforce performance metrics for September will be published next week, make sure you’re subscribed HERE. 

 

* 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™
  • Restaurant guests continue to frame their dining experiences and reviews around COVID-19. During the month of September, Black Box Guest Intelligence was still tracking thousands of reviews that specifically mentioned “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”. 
  • These reviews have become more positive in recent months as restaurants have continued to be intentional in their response and messaging to protect guests. In fact, the word “great” was the 3rd most mentioned word in coronavirus reviews during the month of September. 
  • Another recent theme in these reviews has been around restaurant “staff.” This theme climbed to the 8th most mentioned word in September coronavirus reviews, up from a ranking of 18th in July. Typically, when guests mentioned the staff, they were commending them for adhering to COVID-19 regulations. 

 

Key Insights – September 24, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending September 13)

 

  • Restaurant comp sales deteriorated compared with the previous week. This was expected given the unfavorable comparison due to the Labor Day holiday for the week ending September 13. In 2019, Labor Day fell on the first week of the month; thus, comp sales for the week of September 6 this year were positively impacted. The reverse of this impact was expected during the most recent week. 
  • Both of the last two weeks posted better comp sales than had been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Labor Day holiday shift notwithstanding, the industry’s average comp sales for the last two weeks improved by over 3 percentage points from the average performance recorded for the previous four weeks. 
  • The same pattern was observed for comp traffic: the week ending September 13 was a little worse than the previous week, but the average for the two weeks (which minimizes the effect of any calendar shifts) shows there continues to be improvements for restaurants. 
  • The only segment that was able to achieve positive comp sales growth during the week was quick service, which now has 20 consecutive weeks of positive sales growth. 
  • Fast casual continues performing better than most, although the latest week saw a significant downturn in sales for the industry, likely the effect of the holiday. 
  • Fine dining and family dining remain the segments with the largest sales drops year over year. 
  • Compared to the pre-COVID level, about 10% of all chain restaurant locations remain completely closed. The percentage of closures is lower for limited-service* restaurants than for those in full-service**. 
  • The states with the strongest comp sales during the week were Utah, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Dakota, Arizona, Minnesota and North Carolina. 
  • The states with the worst comp sales results were Hawaii, Alaska, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont, New Jersey, Washington and West Virginia. The District of Columbia’s comp sales performance would also put them among this group of states. 

 

* Limited service: quick service and fast casual 

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

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

  • As of July, turnover rates continue to be elevated for many restaurant companies for both hourly, non-management employees as well as restaurant managers. 
  • The median quick service company has added staff per restaurant location compared with the pre-COVID period. 
  • However, in the case of fast casual and casual dining (both front of house and back of house positions), staffing levels per restaurant remain reduced. But the data shows hiring has been ongoing and staffing levels have increased in recent months. 
  • Hourly employee wages have increased faster for full-service restaurants than for those in limited-service. But in the case of general manager base salaries, Q2 yearoveryear growth was greater for limited-service brands than for full-service.  

 

 

Key Insights – September 17, 2020

 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending September 6)

 

  • Restaurant sales accelerated their rate of recovery during the week, but it’s important to point out the calendar shift as a potential reason for that. Unlike the week ending September 6th, the comparable week included Labor Day in 2019. Restaurant sales during this holiday are typically lower. 
  • Comp sales have not improved this much week to week since early July. However, restaurant sales growth remains negative by a wide margin year over year. 
  • Comp traffic also improved compared to the previous week, although not as much as the rise in sales. 
  • Sales performance for limited-service* brands continues to be much better than the rest of the industry. 
  • Quick service posted its 19th consecutive week of positive comp sales growth. 
  • Fast casual comp sales were flat year over year, the first week the segment has not seen a yearoveryear drop in sales since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • Full-service** restaurants once again improved comp sales performance during the week, but sales loss year over year remains over -15%. 
  • Charleston, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, Wilmington, NC, Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL were the best performing markets during the week based on yearoveryear comp sales. 
  • California had many of the markets with greatest restaurant sales losses during the week. Seven of the fifteen lowest performing DMAs are located within the state: Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Fresno, San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

* Limited service: quick service and fast casual 

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

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
  • Share of consumer food spend was as follows: grocery (67.3%), limited-service restaurants (23.2%), full-service restaurants (7.5%) and online grocery (2.0%). 
  • Share of food spend flowing to grocery stores has fallen every consecutive month since climbing to a high of 75.5% in March. As of September 6, grocery share was just 1.6% higher than its pre-COVID levels of 65.7%. 
  • Limited-service share is currently tracking 1.2% higher than pre-COVID levels while full-service share is tracking 2.9% lower.

 

Key Insights – September 11, 2020

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence
  • Many restaurant companies that initially turned to furloughs to reduce their labor costs have transitioned to laying off employees in recent months. As a result, July turnover rates were higher compared to Q2 when the first effects of the pandemic hit the labor market. 
  • The largest increases in turnover during July were in full-service* restaurants, both for managers and for hourly, non-management employees. 
  • The need for initial staffing reduction was much smaller for limited-service** restaurants since the shift to off-premise*** favored their strengths in the marketplace.  
  • Limited-service continues capturing a greater share of restaurant sales than in the past and quick service concepts are experiencing a period of very rapid sales growth. As a result, July staffing levels had to be adjusted by most brands operating in limited-service 
  • The median restaurant company in quick service and fast casual are now operating with more staff per restaurant than they have in recent years.  
  • Turnover rates for non-management employees in limited-service increased only slightly in July compared to Q2, while management turnover remained flat.  
  • Register here to tune into the September 30th State of the Restaurant Workforce Webinar. This session is open to all restaurant operators. 

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

** Limited service: quick service and fast casual 

***Off-premise: to-go, delivery and drive-thru 

Financial Trends

Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™

(based on data from the week ending August 30)
  • Comp sales growth year over year remained the same as the previous week and comp traffic improved slightly during the week 
  • All segments saw improved comp sales performance during week.  
  • Growth in average spend per guest slowed down but remains at historically high levels. 
  • QSR continues to be the best performing segment, by far, based on comp sales growth with 18 consecutive weeks of positive sales growth. 
  • The pace at which QSR sales are growing may be starting to slow down. 
  • Fine dining and upscale casual improved their sales performance the most. 
  • Recovery for alcoholic beverage sales has been slower due to the restricted dine-in capacity still in place and the larger than normal percentage of off-premise sales in full-service restaurants. 
  • Year over year off-premise sales growth for full-service restaurants remains at very elevated levels but has been continuously dropping slowly since the end of July. 
  • By contrast, off-premise growth in limited-service restaurants has remained growing at a high, relatively constant pace since mid-May. 
  • Mid-afternoon sales continue to be better than results seen for other daypartsthis daypart has achieved positive growth year over year in recent weeks. 
  • Late-night daypart sales continue struggling most and have trailed the other dayparts by a wide margin since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and South Dakota had the best comp sales results for the week. 
  • Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia lost the most restaurant sales year over year during the week. 

 

Key Insights – September 4, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending August 23)

 

  • The industry had some small improvement in same-store sales growth year over year.  
  • August posted the best sales results since February, see full monthly analysis here.  
  • Restaurant traffic also experienced a small improvement compared to the previous week.  
  • Average spending per guest continues growing at an accelerated pace year over year. 
  • Average guest check growth for limited-service* segments have increased at the fastest rate; a persistent trend since the pandemic hit at the national level and off-premise-only became the norm. 
  • 10% of restaurants remain completely closed. This has remained constant over the last seven weeks, which suggests we may be at the point that these could represent permanent closures. 
  • About 20% of limited-service locations have not opened for dine-in and operate by off-premise only. 
  • On average, off-premise sales have represented 13% of all limited-service sales in the last four weeks. 
  • Over 60% of all sales have been through dine-in for full-service restaurants during each of the last four weeks. 
  • The Southeast, Mountain Plains and the Southwest were the best performing regions of the country based on same-store sales growth. 
  • California, New England and New York-New Jersey experienced the biggest loss in same-store sales year over year. 

*Limited service: quick service and fast casual

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

  • In August, 75% of restaurant spending went to limited-service concepts. While this is still higher than its pre-pandemic market share of 68%, full-service restaurants have continued to steal back share each consecutive month since April when limited-service brought in 82% of restaurant spending. 
  • Consumers also increased their spending at physical retail outlets in August (compared to July), though the monthly growth of +2% was slower than for restaurants. 
  • On the other hand, consumer travel spending continued to decline in August (compared to July), with spend on airlines down -2% and spend on cruises down -28%.

 

Key Insights – August 27, 2020

 

[Webinar]: Restaurant Operators Face a Second Pandemic: Racism & Social Injustice

This week, our president & CEO sat down with James Fripp, chief equity and inclusion officer for Yum! Brands and James Pogue, Ph.D., CEO of JP Enterprises and a leading voice on issues of Diversity, Inclusion and Bias. Together, they held a candid and open conversation on race, social advocacy and important steps to implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives that work and are needed now more than ever. Polling of the webinar audience revealed: 

    • 30% feel they are doing all they can to implement impactful diversity and inclusion initiatives, but know they need to do more.
    • When asked, the largest barriers to diversity and inclusion implementation are:
      • Too many other priorities 28%
      • Don’t know where to begin 25%
      • Lack of resources & funds to put a plan in place 20%
      • Lack of alignment & resources 17%
      • No one focused on it or championing it 11%

For more, check out the on-demand replay of the webinar HERE. 

 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

 

      • The restaurant workforce was clearly upended by the pandemic with most chain restaurant companies forced to reduce staff. Compensation has been affected as well and we’re digging into the current state of employee compensation and benefits practices in our annual Total Rewards Survey. This edition of the research will also do a deep dive into the changing employee landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  
      • Rhode Island, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Virginia experienced the largest year-over-year increases in hourly wages for line cooks in full-service during Q2. With the exception of Michigan, these increases are entirely market driven and not the result of minimum wage increase. 
      • Shift leaders in limited-service brands had larger year-over-year wage increases in Q2 in California, Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, Utah, Florida and the District of Columbia. Except for Utah, all others experienced minimum wage increases in 2020. 
 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

      • Third-party delivery restaurant guest net sentiment declined in July and August, down roughly 8 percentage points compared to January through June. As more restaurants open for dine-in and guests venture out, they seem to be less forgiving towards their third-party delivery experiences as they were at the height of the pandemic shutdown.  
      • While cleanliness and safety continue to be at the forefront of guests minds, other restaurant experiential themes are also in focus. Guests have been giving more credit to restaurants for service knowledge and food presentation. Net sentiment has improved by 10 points or more for each. See the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for July: Restaurant Staff Key to Maintaining a Clean and Safe Environment.

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending August 16)

 

      • Traffic experienced a small improvement during the week. Year-over-year comp traffic improved by 1+ percentage point compared to the previous week.  
      • Restaurant comp sales growth year over year remained virtually unchanged for the week. 
      • Quick service continues to be the only industry segment consistently achieving positive comp sales growth. With the week ending August 16, this segment experienced 16 weeks of positive sales growth year over year. Get a comprehensive look at the QSR segment in 2020 with this latest State of the Segment Report 
      • Family dining and fine dining comp sales struggled the most of all segments. 
      • Off-premise* sales growth year over year in full-service continues to be strong.  
      • Off-premise sales more than doubled year over year for full-service restaurants during the last two months. 
      • Limited service and full service off premise sales continue growing at an accelerated pace. Growth has stabilized in recent months and are not expected to achieve pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. 
      • The Southeast, Southwest and Mountain Plains regions saw the best comp sales results during the week; albeit all with negative comp sales growth. 
      • California, New York-New Jersey and New England experienced the greatest loss in comp sales year over year. 

*Off-premise: to-go, delivery and drive-thru 

 

 

Key Insights – August 20, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending August 9)

 

      • Restaurant comp sales and traffic experienced trivial improvement during the week ending August 9th compared to the prior week. The improvement over the last two weeks was less than 0.3 percentage points for both sales and traffic. 
      • Average guest checks have greatly accelerated their yearoveryear growth compared to historical averages. This has been a trend since early in the pandemic.  
      • Quick service remains the top performing segment based on sales growth, achieving its fifteenth week of positive comp sales growth. For an in depth look at the State of the QSR Segment, check out our latest report here.  
      • The quick service segment continues to have double-digit percentage point growth in their average guest checks followed by fast casual, which has also seen checks rise at an unusually high rate. 
      • Family dining had the worst comp sales results for the week.  
      • Comp sales performance improved the most for upscale casual, followed by fine dining. 
      • The mid-afternoon* daypart experienced flat or positive comp sales growth during six of the last eight weeks. This daypart had impressive sales growth before COVID-19 hit. 
      • The late-night daypart continues losing the most sales year over year, the trend since the beginning of the pandemic. 
      • The best performing states based on restaurant comp sales during the week were: Mississippi, Alabama, Utah, Louisiana, South Dakota, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Idaho and North Carolina. 
      • The states with the worst comp sales growth were: Alaska, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

 

      • As has been highlighted in recent months, cleanliness remains a top concern for guests when dining out. 
      • During July, casual dining had the highest percentage of positive online comments and reviews related to cleanliness. See the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot for July: Restaurant Staff Key to Maintaining a Clean and Safe Environment. 
      • In limited-service, the segment with the highest cleanliness guest sentiment during July was fast casual.
         

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

 

      • Between May and July, limited-service restaurants regained almost all the market share they lost to grocery stores in the first months of the pandemic.  
      • Full-service restaurants have had some gains in their food market share but are still significantly below their pre-pandemic levels. Grocery store share remains elevated as a result. 
      • Restaurant spending among younger consumers (those generation Z) recovered quickly and is almost to where it was pre-pandemic. 
      • By contrast, restaurant spend for older consumers remains much softer. By the end of July, consumers 55 years and older were spending 19% less in restaurants than they had in the same period a year ago. 

*Mid-afternoon sales: sales between 2pm and 5pm

 

 

Key Insights – August 14, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending August 2)
      • Restaurant comp sales improved slightly during the week ending August 2, but the improvement in yearoveryear growth from last week’s results was almost negligible. 
      • July sales and traffic were a mixed bag of results for the restaurant industry. See details here 
      • Since the week ending June 28 the industry’s recovery remains stagnant. Comp sales have fluctuated by less than 2.5 percentage points during each of the last six weeks.  
      •  July’s comp sales were -15%. While there is still a lot of ground for sales to cover before fully recovering, the recent pace of improvement suggests it probably will take a long time to get there. 
      • Restaurant comp traffic remained essentially unchanged from the previous week’s results. There has been little fluctuation in year over year traffic growth results in the last six weeks. 
      • Sales performance for limited-service brands declined slightly from last week based on comp sales growth. 
      • Quick service and fast casual segments continue outperforming full-service restaurants by a very wide margin. By week ending August 2, limited-service comp sales had been positive during four of the last five weeks. See a deep dive on the state of the QSR segment in our newest report. 
      • The segment with the biggest decline in comp sales year over year for week ending August 2 was family dining, followed by fine dining. 
      • After seeing a slowdown at the end of June and first week of July, comp sales for dine-in in full-service restaurants have been showing some small improvements in recent weeks.  
      • Of all chain restaurants existing in the pre-pandemic period, 12% in full-service and 7% in limited-service remain completely closed. These percentages have held relatively flat for the last four weeks. 
      • The best performing regions based on restaurant comp sales during the week were: the Southeast, Southwest and Mountain Plains. 
      • Regions with worst comp sales results during the week were: California, New York-New Jersey, New England and Florida. 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • Restaurant Staff Key to Retaining Guests by Maintaining a Clean & Safe Environment. Read more in the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot.  
      • Consumer transaction data revealed that full-service restaurant spending was among the 10 categories most negatively impacted during Q2 compared to Q1. Other leisure-related categories affected the most included travel, cruises, lodging and airlines. 
      • Limited-service restaurants continue to be the clear winners in the market share battle within the leisure category. 

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence
      • Although at the height of the pandemic over half of limited-service companies reported cutting staff through either furloughs or layoffs (or a combination of both). 
      • By June, the median company in quick service and in fast casual had increased their number of hourly employees per location compared to their pre-pandemic staffing levels. 
      •  The biggest drops in staffing compared with the pre-pandemic period occurred in the front-of-house, which is not surprising given the limited dine-in operation capacity still experienced by many restaurants. 
      • The Total Rewards Survey is open and accepting submissions. Read more about the industry leading survey here.

 


Key Insights – August 6, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 26)

 

 

      • The restaurant recovery continues to plateau as comp sales growth year over year remained relatively unchanged in July. [See July restaurant performance results here] 
      • Although there was a small improvement in comp sales during the week ending July 26 compared to the previous week, the industry’s performance returned to the same place it was two weeks ago. 
      • Quick service continues to be the strongest performing industry segment through the pandemic, by far. As of the end of July, quick service achieved thirteen consecutive weeks of positive comp sales growth. [See a full analysis of the State of the QSR Segment in our newest report.] 
      • The segments with the biggest declines in comp sales during the week were fine dining and family dining. 
      • After climbing back from a high of almost 20% of chain restaurant locations being closed at the height of the pandemic downturn, the percentage of restaurants that remains closed has flattened around 10% over the last month. 
      • The percentage of restaurant closures continues to be higher for full-service than for limited-service restaurants. 
      • Chicken, Burgers and Pizza Concepts are the cuisines seeing the strongest results. 
      • Restaurants in three states were able to achieve positive comp sales growth during the week: Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. 
      • The worst performing states based on comp sales during week ending July 26 were New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Wyoming, District of Columbia and Washington. 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • Although still negative year over year, there is some good news for the industry in the fact that restaurant intent to return is increasingly more positive. July’s percentage of positive intent to return from online restaurant mentions and reviews was the highest it’s been since April, the first complete month affected by the pandemic at the national level. 
      • The regions with the highest intent to return net sentiment during July were Texas, the Western region, Florida and the Mid-Atlantic.

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence
      • As their sales have improved strongly year over year and operations likely became more demanding due to the need of working to keep guests and employees safe, quick service restaurants added to their average hourly staff per location in June compared with the first months of the year. 
      • However, for full-service restaurants like those in casual dining and upscale casual, staffing has been reduced at all employee levels within their restaurants in June compared with the period immediately before the start of the pandemic. The biggest drops in staffing per location, as would be expected, have been among front-of-house non-management employees. With dining room capacity still severely constrained and the need to reduce costs due to lost sales, restaurants have been forced to adjust their staffing levels accordingly. 

 

 

Key Insights – July 31, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 19)

 

 

      • Restaurant sales recovery has completely stalled over the last four weeks as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase across the US. 
      • Traffic decline was the worst the industry has seen since the week ending June 14. 
      • Comp sales growth YOY for the industry was 1.1 percentage points worse during the week compared to the performance for the previous week; results were flat compared to the performance reported for the week ending July 5. 
      • Quick service has achieved twelve consecutive weeks of positive comp sales growth. Check out the new report, just released on the State of the QSR Segment.
      • Full-service* restaurants open for dine-in has declined. 
      • A larger percent of limitedservice** brands have remained closed for dine-in. Since off-premise sales are typically a much larger percentage of their sales, pandemic or no pandemic, operating only off-premise is a much more viable option. Limited-service brands have also closed restaurants at a faster pace than full-service.  
      • The percentage of limited-service restaurants offering dine-in service dropped by 10 percentage points compared to last week. The is the largest number we’ve seen since the last week of June. 
      • Off-premise sales (including to-go and delivery) for full-service restaurants posted their strongest growth YOY since the last week of May. 
      • Fast casual and family dining were the only segments that maintained flat year-over-year comp sales compared to the previous week 
      • Extensive financial and workforce updates for the month of July will be published next week. Stay in the know by subscribing to the Restaurant Industry Snapshot for the latest restaurant industry performance updates.

Restaurant Share of Wallet


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
      • Despite losing significant ground at the beginning of the pandemic to grocery sales, restaurants have made significant progress regaining the share of food spend they lost. 
      • Although limited-service restaurant share of all food spend is almost at pre-pandemic levels, share for full-service restaurants is only slightly above half of what it was in the pre-pandemic period. 
      • Online groceries and meal kits sales continue growing at more than 50% year over year, but their overall adoption by consumers is very low.  

*Full Service: casual dining – fine dining
**Limited Service: quick service and fast casual 

 

Key Insights – July 23, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 12)

 

 

      • Restaurant comp sales growth year over year improved compared to the previous week; however, the rate at which sales are improving week over week is slowing down considerably. 
      • Comp traffic for the industry remained essentially flat. 
      • After twelve consecutive weeks of comp sales improvements for full-service restaurants, recovery has stagnated over the last three weeks.  
      • Limited-service restaurants continue faring much better. They have achieved positive year over year sales growth during the last two consecutive weeks. 
      • As the number of COVID-19 cases rise and new capacity restrictions are implemented at the regional level, the percentage of dine-in sales has decreased. During week ending July 12, 61% of all full-service restaurant sales were dine-in. This percentage increased steadily until reaching a high of 64% two weeks ago.  
      • In addition to some guests likely being more cautious and avoiding dining out in response to the rising health concerns, full-service restaurants seem to have hit a ceiling in terms of percentage of their restaurants that are open for dine-in business. After a steady climb since the end of April, the percentage of restaurants existing in the pre-COVID era that are now open for dine-in has plateaued around 87% for the last three weeks. 
      • By contrast, although the percentage of locations offering dine-in continues to rise for limited-service restaurants, many have opted to remain operating based on off-premise only, even if there may no longer be any restrictions to opening their dining rooms. By the week ending July 12, only 71% of limited-service restaurants that existed in the pre-pandemic period have their dining rooms open. 
      • As dine-in sales have slowed down for full-service restaurants, off-premise sales growth year over has picked up steam again. Off-premise sales growth for full-service restaurants had been slowing down as dine-in sales increased, but that trend has now been reversed in the last three weeks. 
      • For limited-service brands, off-premise sales growth year over year (including to-go, drive-thru and delivery), continues growing at an increasingly higher pace since mid-April. 
      • The best performing states based on comp sales growth during week were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Utah, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas and Indiana. 
      • The states with the worst restaurant comp sales during the week were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Hawaii. 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • One theme that continues to be top of mind for restaurant guests is cleanliness. Guest net sentiment* for restaurant cleanliness been increasing in recent months. Additionally, the overall percentage of restaurant ambiance mentions that center on cleanliness has been steadily increasing each month since April.  
      • As guests started going back to dine-in at restaurants, a larger portion of the restaurant experience has been focused on safety and sanitation. And the good news is that as restaurant operators have had a chance to adapt to the new required heightened cleanliness protocols, the response from guests has been increasingly positive. 

 

*Net Sentiment: percentage of positive mentions minus percentage classified as negative. 

 

Key Insights – July 17, 2020

 

Voice of the Restaurant Operator


Black Box Intelligence™ operator poll via the Q3 State of the Industry Webinar Update July 16th
      • The environment for restaurants over the next 90 days will continue to be challenging. 2 out of every 3 operators and executives said they expect things to get worse for restaurants over the next three months. 
      • Safety is of the utmost concern for restaurant operators. Of the nearly 300 operators polled:
        – 96% are requiring masks for all restaurant staff 
        – 86% are removing some tables from their restaurants 
        – 77% take the temperature of their employees before a shift
        – 71% are requiring gloves for all restaurant staff
        – 57% have implemented plexiglass barriers (most common in limited service brands) 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • Cleanliness is the new ambiance! From April to June, net sentiment for “clean” increased almost 20 points. It’s clear that if there is one overarching concern for guests today, it is the need to feel safe. 
      • The latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot revealed that Online Sentiment Reflects Convergence of Employee and Guest Values. 
      • Social advocacy is the latest theme in online channels. 
      • Sentiment around ‘Food’ and ‘service’ had significant improvements in their percentage of positive guest mentions compared to May; both categories are now achieving growth in sentiment year over year. 
      • ‘Intent to return’ guest sentiment has been improving slowly. It was usual to find over 60% of all intent to return mentions classified as positive in the pre-pandemic period. To see June’s improvement, click here.  

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending July 5)

 

 

      • Comp sales worsened by almost 2 percentage points for the industry this week. See the latest sales and traffic performance for June here.
      • This year the drop in average sales was 9% during the week of July 4th. Although this holiday week typically means a decline in sales for restaurants, this year it was much worse. Over the last two years the week of 4th of July saw drops in average weekly sales dollars per restaurant of about 5% to 6% compared with the average 
      • Dine-in sales yearoveryear growth in full-service restaurants is trending down again in recent weeks while there has been an uptick in off-premise sales growth. 
      • Sales for limited-service brands continue to get better as guests shift their spending to more off-premise transactions but full-service segments are on a two-week slump. 
      • Quick service achieved its tenth consecutive week of strong positive comp sales growth and posted its second-best week in more than two years based on yearoveryear comp sales growth. Fast casual also improved their comp sales growth during week. 
      • Comp sales results declined during the week for the casual dining, family dining and upscale casual segments, however, fine dining is the segment that continues to improve the most. It was the hardest hit by the pandemic during the first few months but has come roaring back since dining room restrictions started to get lifted. It was the second best performing full-service segment based on comp sales for the week ending July 5th, only behind casual dining. 

Key Insights – July 10, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 28)

 

 

      • Restaurants sales continue improving. See the latest sales and traffic results here: Sales Improve but Restaurants Should Brace Themselves for Challenges Ahead.  
      • Excluding the previous two weeks (in which a shift in Father’s Day compared with last year affected sales results) the week ending June 28 had the best comp sales results for the industry since the week ending March 8; the week before a national emergency was declared due to the pandemic. 
      • Limited-service brands continue doing much better regarding sales growth year over year. 
      • Quick service has reached 9 consecutive weeks of strong positive comp sales growth. Results for this segment have been better than the growth rate they had been posting for years before the pandemic. 
      • Pace of recovery for fast casual brands has slowed down considerably, although results continue to be much better than for full-service restaurants. Comp sales improved by just one percentage point compared with the beginning of the month. 
      • Full-service segments, which are still down by a larger margin when it comes to comp salesare still finding room for recovering at a faster pace. 
      • At the national level, the industry seems to have hit a wall in terms of percentage of restaurants that are open in any capacity. By the end of June, 12% of all chain restaurants in operation before the pandemic remain completely closed, this percentage remained unchanged throughout the month. 
      • The reopening of dining rooms continues to be much slower for limited-service brands, with many restaurants choosing to continue to operate under off-premise only given their relatively higher volumes in those channels. 
      • Off-premise sales growth YOY continues slowing down for full-service brands since its peak back in mid-April through early May when it reached over 200% growth. 
      • Day parts performing best for the industry during June were mid-afternoon and dinner. Performance was not as strong for lunch or breakfast. The day part that continues to be hit the hardest by the pandemic is late night. 
      • The restaurant cuisines that were able to the best comp sales during June were chicken, pizza and hamburger.  
      • Best performing states during week ending June 28 based on comp sales were: Idaho, Mississippi, Alabama, Utah, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Dakota and Kentucky. 
      • Worst performing states during the week were: New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington.

Key Insights – June 30, 2020

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
      • Restaurant spend for Gen-Z consumers rebounded back to pre-crisis levels for the week ending June 21, reporting +1% YoY growth. Spending for this age cohort fell to a low of -41% for the week ending March 29.
      • Not surprisingly, consumers older than 65 had the steepest declines in restaurant spending, bottoming out at -59% for the week ending 3/29. Recovery has been slow for this age cohort and, as of June 21, their spending was still down -22%.
      • Besides the obvious explanation that older consumers feel more threatened by COVID-19, another factor at play is that older consumers historically allocate more of their restaurant spending to full-service restaurants.
      • In 2019, roughly 50% of restaurant spending by 65+ aged consumers went to full-service restaurants with the other 50% going to limited-service. Those spending patterns have significantly changed during the pandemic. In April, 65+ aged consumers increased their share at limited-service restaurants to 79%. While that allocation has been falling in recent weeks, this group is still spending 70% at limited-service for the most recent 30 days.
      • Contrast that to Gen-Z, who allocated 75% of their restaurant spending in 2019 to limited-service and 25% to full-service. That spread grew to 86% in April going to limited service at the height of the pandemic.

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 21)
      • Restaurants experienced a strong improvement in their comp sales during the week ending June 21. This was the best week for the industry since the week ending March 8 when the pandemic had still not had an effect at the national level. Performance results for June will be published in The Restaurant Industry Snapshot next Thursday, 7/9.
      • The improvement in sales during the latest week was largely due to a favorable shift in Father’s Day. Fine dining and upscale casual benefitted most from the shift from a comp sales perspective.
      • Contributing to the improvement in comp sales was an acceleration in YOY growth of average per person check.
      • There was very little change in restaurants reported as open; in any capacity during the week.
      • Only 89% of restaurants were open during the week; based on total chain restaurants open in the first 2 months of the year.
      • The percentage of restaurants that are open for dine-in continues to increase at the national level. The percentage of restaurants open is higher in states that reopened restaurants sooner and where the sales downturn due to COVID-19 was not as deep.
      • The percentage of full-service restaurants open for dine-in is much larger than the percentage offering dine-in in limited-service.
      • As dining rooms reopen, comp dine-in sales growth has naturally been improving in recent weeks for full-service restaurants. Limited-service lag in opening dining rooms is reflected in their much weaker dine-in sales growth.
      • As dine-in sales have been improving, particularly for full-service restaurants, YOY growth in off-premise sales continues to slow down.
      • States with the best comp sales results during the week were Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, Louisiana and Kentucky.
      • States with the worst comp sales during the week were: District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Maine, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

 

Key Insights – June 19, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending June 7)

 

 

      • Limited-service brands are reopening dining rooms at a slower pace than full-service. Given that the majority of their sales are typically off-premise (even in the pre-COVID era), waiting until dining room capacity restrictions are expanded and also until guests feel more comfortable dining out is a much more viable strategy for limited-service brands given their smaller reliance on dine-in sales.
      • Many restaurants that closed completely due to the pandemic have reopened by now. The percentage that remains closed has stayed constant for the last 3 weeks at the national level.
      • Even in the states that had open dining rooms for over a month (Texas and Florida), it seems we are approaching a ceiling in terms of number of restaurants that will remain beyond this crisis. The rest that have yet to reopen may represent many of the restaurant locations that are not likely to come back.
      • The percentage of restaurants open for dine-in has grown rapidly for full-service brands.
      • Comp sales and traffic continue improving for the industry overall. However, vast differences in sales performance remain between limited-service and full-service segments.
      • Limited-service brands continue posting much better comp sales results than full-service restaurants. Nonetheless the limited-service recovery trend has slowed down in recent weeks. Some consumer spending shifted back to full-service now that the option to dine in at those restaurants increasingly becomes an option throughout the country.
      • There continues to be strong improvements in full-service comp sales, particularly for family dining and fine dining, which have had the biggest improvements in recent weeks.
      • Best performing states during the week based on comp sales were Alabama, Mississippi, Idaho, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, Utah, Arkansas and South Carolina.
      • Worst performing states during the week based on comp sales were Vermont, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Michigan, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • As restaurants continue to reopen dining rooms around the nation, the gap between full-service and limited-service restaurant net sentiment has widened related to guest mentions of COVID-19.
      • For the rolling 7-day period ending on June 17th, net sentiment is 20% and 10% at full and limited Service restaurants, respectively. Net sentiment was roughly equal for both segments at the end of May.
      • At full-service restaurants, guest comments were particularly positive around guests returning to dining rooms and restaurant staff adhering to COVID-19 guidelines and safety procedures.

Key Insights – June 11, 2020

 

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™
      • Mirroring what happened to sales in May, restaurant guest sentiment has recovered in recent weeks (for more see the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot). Although May saw significant YOY drops in both sales and sentiment, guest sentiment was worse in April.  
      • Restaurant service guest sentiment was 12.2 percentage points less positive YOY during May, while the drop in sentiment was 19.0 percentage points in April. 
      • Guest sentiment for restaurant food was 8.6 percentage points less positive YOY during May, also an improvement from the 11.6 percentage drop in positive sentiment experienced in April. 
      • The use of masks was a hot topic on social media by late May. Guests were vocal about their expectations regarding restaurant staff using masks and were quick to call out cases in which masks were being used incorrectly. 
      • There is increased guest vigilance and sensitivity related to overall cleanliness and sanitation practices at restaurants. Guests are on high alert and have been praising restaurant efforts, as well as pointing out instances in which restaurants have fell short. 
      • For additional guest trends during the month of May, see the latest Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot: Guests Focused on Restaurant Procedures that Ensure Safety. 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 31)
      • Sales continue recovering for the restaurant industry, which achieved its biggest improvement in YOY comp sales in the last six weeks during week ending May 31, according to the May Restaurant Industry Snapshot: Slow and Steady Recovery Continues for Restaurants.  
      • There continues to be a huge gap in comp sales performance (about 45 percentage points) between limited-service and full-service brands.
      • Quick service and fast casual remain the best performing segments based on comp sales. 
      • The family dining segment has had significant improvement in recent weeks and is no longer the second-worst performing segment, position it held since the beginning of the pandemic. 
      • The segments with worst comp sales results are fine dining (the segment most hurt by COVID-19) and now upscale casual. However, fine dining has also achieved significant improvement in comp sales during recent weeks as restaurant dining rooms continue reopening and expanding capacity. 
      • Guest checks continue growing YOY for limited-service brands, but the rate at which they are increasing has started to slow down. 
      • Guest checks for full-service restaurants, which had been falling YOY for months, are starting to show signs of recovery. 
      • Dine-in sales are returning quickly for full-service restaurants. For limited-service brands, the growth of dine-in has been slower. 
      • Best performing states based on comp sales during the week were Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho and Missouri. 
      • Worst performing states based on comp sales were New Mexico, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island. 
      • For official performance benchmarks for May, visit the Restaurant Industry Snapshot: Slow and Steady Recovery Continues for Restaurants. 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™
      • As many restaurants began reopening across the country in May, the restaurant category was able to get back 4.3% share of food spend from grocery stores. 
      • 2.9% of the overall share growth came from limited-service restaurants and 1.4% came from full-service restaurants. 
      • Despite an improvement in May as compared to April, full-service share of food spend is still well below what it was pre-pandemic. Given that most restaurant dining rooms were either mandated closed or subject to capacity constraints in May, it is expected that restaurants will continue to steal back share as these restrictions are lifted. 
      • Texas, which opened dining rooms at 25% capacity on May 1st was able to grow restaurant shareoffood spend faster. This was particularly true for full-service restaurants in Texas, which increased their shareoffood spend went up by 2.2% from April to May compared to the 1.4% increase that was seen at the national level.

Key Insights – June 4, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 24)
      • Restaurant sales and traffic once again improved at the national level during week ending May 24. You can performance for all of May HERE.
      • Limited-service companies continue seeing much better comp sales results than the rest of the industry, with quick service now even posting strong positive YOY growth in sales.
      • Family dining is starting to see an acceleration in its recovery as restaurants reopen for dine-in.
      • Upscale casual and fine dining were the two segments with the worst comp sales growth during the week. There was a considerable acceleration in the recovery for fine dining sales during the last week; however, the segment still has the lowest comp sales.
      • In states that have dining rooms open, dine-in sales represented over half of the total during the week.
      • Dine-in sales are coming back at a slower pace in limited-service restaurants.
      • As dine-in sales have started picking up, there continues to be a deceleration in YOY growth of off-premise sales.
      • The best performing states based on comp sales during the week were Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Idaho and Utah.
      • The worst performing states based on comp sales were New Jersey, California, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico.
      • For performance results for the month of May, view our latest Snapshot update: Slow and Steady Recovery Continues for Restaurants.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

      • As states began reopening restaurants for dine-in service, service satisfaction scores improved.
      • At the national level, food satisfaction scores fell slightly in May. However, food scores improved for restaurants in Texas and Georgia (states that were open for dine-in service throughout most of May). This data confirms that COVID-19 has not changed the long-standing trend that guests are more satisfied with food served in a restaurant than food served via an off-premise channel.
      • Despite overt cleanliness efforts, “ambiance” satisfaction fell in May as compared to last year. Guests appear to be hypersensitive to cleanliness resulting in heightened expectations.

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

      • Consumer spend on travel & leisure has fallen from 20% share of total wallet (pre-pandemic) to 10% as of week ending May 24.
      • Limited-service restaurants were capturing around 20% of the travel & leisure category pre-pandemic, but that share has jumped to 40% as airlines, ground transportation, cruises and recreation have seen steeper losses.
      • Despite stealing 20% of the travel & leisure category, limited-service restaurants share of total consumer wallet is roughly the same as pre-pandemic, while other categories like hardlines (home furnishings, electronics) and broadlines (online retail) increased their share.
      • Full-service restaurants represented 9.5% of the travel & leisure category pre-pandemic. This share fell to 6.7% as of the week ending March 22 but has since climbed back to 10.1% share as of May 24. As a share of total consumer wallet, full-service restaurant spend has fallen -0.85%.
      • While restaurants are outperforming travel and leisure peers like airlines and gyms, the overall category has significantly fallen due to COVID-19.

 

Key Insights – May 28, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
(based on data from the week ending May 17)
      • Restaurant sales change YOY continued improving during the week ending May 17. May results will be published next week in the Black Box Intelligence Restaurant Industry Snapshot.
      • Average check continues increasing rapidly for limited-service brands. However, growth in average spending per guest remains negative for full-service restaurants.
      • Fine dining and family dining continue to be the industry segments with the biggest declines in sales YOY. While all other segments are seeing faster improvement in their sales, fine dining has seen little improvement in their sales in the last month.
      • Consumer demand is strong in states that have started reopening to dine-in. Comp sales in those states that have had their dining rooms open since the beginning of the month are doing much better than at the national level for full-service restaurants. State results will be published in next week’s snapshot.
      • Comp sales in Texas, Florida and Georgia during the week for full-service industry segments were on average between 10 to 20 percentage points better than at the national level.
      • As dining rooms reopen, YOY growth in off-premise sales has begun slowing down slightly for full-service brands. However, for limited-service off-premise sales continue accelerating.
      • Best performing states based on industry comp sales during the week were Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia and Utah.
      • Worst performing states during the week were New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, West Virginia, New Mexico, Maine (and Washington DC).
      • For full results, including May comp sales, traffic, regional and market performance, expert commentary and more, make sure you are subscribed to the Restaurant Industry Snapshot™ to be published June 4th.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence™

      • Guest sentiment for “off-premise” restaurant offerings improved in March as restaurants began shifting their efforts toward improving to-go and delivery operations.
      • However, off-premise sentiment scores fell in early May as states started to reopen dining rooms. Many guests complained of long wait times for curbside pickup orders.
      • Guest sentiment trends have started to recover as of the week ending May 24, with off-premise sentiment returning to similar levels as were seen in April.

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence™

      • Third-party delivery (3PD) adoption continues to increase for consumers of all ages since the pandemic began. Gen-Z has had the most significant adoption rates, with over 14% of Gen-Z consumers using 3PD to order from a restaurant since March 15th of this year.
      • While only 2.3% of baby boomers used 3PD in the past two months, this reflects a growth of 50% compared to the same months in 2019.

 

Key Insights – May 20, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™

 

      • The slow but steady improvement for restaurants continued during the week ending May 10. Comp sales were -40% YOY for the week. This represented a 5 percentage point increase from last week’s YOY performance and almost 20 percentage points better than mid-April.
      • Limited-service brands continue performing better than full-service, with comp sales of -6.5% for the week. Within these companies, many of those classified under quick service are starting to see significant positive growth in their sales YOY. Quick service has posted 2 consecutive weeks of positive comp sales.
      • With a lot of dining rooms still closed and many others open at a limited capacity, full-service concepts keep experiencing much bigger drops in sales YOY, despite the improvements in recent weeks. Comp sales for full-service restaurants were –55% during the week ending May 10.
      • At the national level, dine-in comp sales were -95% for the week ending May 10. Quick service at -88% and casual dining at -91% are the segments leading in comp sales for dine-in. Casual dining dine-in comp sales were -97% last week, highlighting how the reopening of restaurants has benefitted this segment in particular.
      • Even if there has been some improvement in dine-in sales, at the national level, off-premise sales continue accelerating rapidly at a pace comparable to recent weeks. Comp sales for off-premise (delivery, drive-thru, to-go) grew by 202% YOY during the week for full-service restaurants; for limited-service brands, growth in off-premise was 31%.
      • Taking casual dining as a sample, the top 8 performing states during the week based on comp sales reflect the improvement in states that had dining rooms open during the week. The best performing states (Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas and Florida) had a casual dining comp sales average of -34%. The average for the rest of the country was -52%.
      • Using the largest of these states as a sample for analysis (Tennessee, Georgia, Texas and Florida) dine-in comp sales averaged -68% for casual dining in these 4 states (23 percentage points better than the national benchmark).
      • As dine-in sales are picking up, to-go sales are beginning to slow down in those states that are reopening. Average to-go comp sales for these states was 192% for week ending May 10. The average for these states over the last 2 weeks was 226%.
      • The reopening of dining rooms is having a significant impact on guest checks by improving beverage sales mix in those states. Beverage comp sales for those 4 states averaged -67% during the week, compared with -95% at the national level.

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence

 

      • Florida and Tennessee have the highest rates of consumers buying directly from restaurants, either through dine-in or takeout orders. 8% of consumers in Tennessee ordered food or beverages at a full-service restaurant during the week ending May 10 based on credit and debit card transaction data. Florida saw 6.5% for the same metric.
      • All other states had less than 5% of their population purchase from full-service restaurants during the week.
      • National grocery sales growth has held steady at around 15% for the last several weeks. An analysis of the states that opened their dining rooms last week (TX, GA, FL, TN) highlights that while full-service sales improved, grocery sales did not decline. This underlines that while some consumers are starting to engage with restaurants more frequently, the shift has not been meaningful enough yet to damper grocery sales growth.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

      • Over the last 4 months, the restaurant industry experienced a sharp drop in total number of online reviews as well as in guest sentiment at the National level, as well as in Texas and Georgia.
      • Although counts and sentiment are low, Black Box Guest Intelligence captured almost as many reviews during the first few weeks of May, than there were in all of April. This shows excitement for restaurant spending but not quite evidence of a V-shaped recovery.
      • The increase in number of restaurant mentions relative to April has been greater in those major states in which restaurants are slowly starting to reopen such as Texas and Georgia.
      • While there has been a decline in sentiment around service speed, overall experience, and to-go in Texas and Georgia in May compared with April, there was an increase around ambiance and ambiance cleanliness. This is in part due to restaurants adapting to guests needs by establishing safety updates and precautions. Restaurants are now hyper focused on cleanliness and it is paying off in terms of improved guest sentiment around these areas.

Key Insights – May 13, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™

 

      • The number of restaurants reopening their dining rooms has steadily increased in recent days. As of Saturday, May 9, on average almost 30% of the restaurants operated by the companies that participated in our Restaurants Recovery Sales Flash survey opened their dining rooms in some capacity.
      • The impact of those dining rooms opening has been impactful in driving incremental sales for full-service restaurants. Over the last week, the difference between comp sales for full-service restaurants that have dining rooms open in some capacity and overall comp sales for full-service has ranged between 8% and 15%.
      • Dine-in sales still represent a small percentage of the total. During the last week, dine-in sales have represented an average 11% of total limited-service sales and 13% of total sales in full-service restaurants. This remains a dramatic shift for full-service, which tended to see roughly 86% to 88% of their sales coming through dine-in in the last year.
      • Comp sales for the industry were -45% during the week ending May 3, a 2.5 percentage point improvement since last week and the best result since week ending March 15.
      • Texas allowed dining rooms to open on May 1. The following analysis includes data for week ending May 3, which includes the first three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) of dining rooms open. This state was chosen for a deeper dive analysis given the size of its economy and the large number of restaurants operating within the state.
      • While casual dining’s YOY dine-in comp sales in Texas improved by almost 11 percentage points compared with the previous week, the improvement for fast casual and quick service were a much lower 3.4 percentage point change.
      • Texas to-go comp sales declined compared with previous weeks. After averaging +142% YOY growth for the last 2 weeks, to-go sales growth was up 123% during the week ending May 3.
      • Still down by more than 80% YOY in Texas, beverage sales YOY growth improved by 9 percentage points compared with the previous week for casual dining. Upscale casual improved beverage by 3 percentage points and fine dining by an industry leading 14 percentage points.
      • Breakfast and lunch were the only 2 dayparts that improved their comp sales results compared with the previous week in Texas during the week ending May 3. Lunch made the biggest gains at 5 percentage points.
      • However, the rest of the dayparts (mid-afternoon, dinner and late night) actually saw their comp sales YOY worsen during the week. This suggests guests may be favoring their local independent favorites for these dining occasions as dining rooms reopen.

Workforce Trends


Insights from Black Box Workforce Intelligence

From the recently published Workforce Response to COVID-19 Survey. Download the infographic on the side bar. Workforce Intelligence clients can download the full report in their EFC’s.

      • Despite many companies beginning to bring back employees from furlough, of those people employed by chain restaurants back in January, only 45% of them remain actively employed today on average.
      • Restaurant companies held on to most of their managers. Of those employed back in January, on average 75% of restaurant managers remain actively employed today.
      • Many of the employees that were separated through furloughs or lay offs are not expected to return to their former employer. About 25% of furloughed employees and 67% of laid off employees are not expected to return if given the opportunity.
      • Most companies are expecting to re-hire or bring back employees from furlough at the same base wages and salaries they had before.
      • Almost half of restaurant companies said they are adjusting their bonus criteria or performance goals in response to the pandemic.
      • Companies are focusing on ways to guarantee the safety of their employees and guests. Some of the most common measures taken include requiring all employees to wear masks and gloves, adding plexi-glass shields to customer facing stations such as host/hostess stands and counters, taking temperature of employees, removing tables and providing hand sanitizer throughout the restaurants.
      • A few companies are planning to stop receiving cash and some even plan to discontinue the use of physical credit cards.

Key Insights – May 6, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™
      • It seems that under the environment prevalent the week ending April 26, the industry hit a ceiling in terms of its sales recovery, and it will probably take dining rooms to open in some capacity to see further jumps in comp sales performance.
      • For the week ending April 26, comp sales for the industry were -47.2%, which was essentially flat from the previous week. As a comparison, the industry improved its comp sales each week by an average of almost 7.0 percentage points in the previous 3-week period.
      • Full-service restaurants continue to lose sales at rapid pace. These brands lost 62% of their comp sales during the week. Limited-service restaurants continue faring much better, at -17% comp sales for the week.
      • Early data from a the newly launched Black Box Intelligence Restaurant Recovery Sales Flash shows that in Texas for Saturday, May 2 (the second day restaurant dining rooms were allowed to reopen in the state but at only 25% capacity), same-store sales for full-service restaurants dropped 36%, which is almost 30 percentage points better than the decline in sales recorded at the national level for that day.
      • Data from Texas and Georgia (both allowing dining rooms to be open in some capacity May 1), revealed that, on average, full-service restaurant operators only opened dining rooms in about 40% of their locations in Texas and 31% of them in Georgia that day.
      • Comp sales at the individual segment level showed little improvement for the week ending April 26, with the exception of quick service.
      • Quick service comp sales were less than -2% during the week, which makes it the only segment close to getting back to normal, pre-pandemic sales.
      • Average check per person or per transaction continues accelerating at a fast pace year over year in the case of limited-service restaurants. Quick service checks grew by 20% during the week, while growth was 16% for fast casual. However, guest checks continue dropping for full-service brands, largely due to lost beverage sales.
      • Allowing restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption has had very small positive impact on lost beverage sales in those states in which it has been authorized. Comp beverage sales for casual dining in Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, Connecticut and California (states that allow off-premise alcohol sales and were the best performers on alcoholic beverage sales growth) were all within -92% to -94% for the week. Although better than the -98% national beverage sales growth rate for casual dining, this represents only marginal improvement.

Guest Trends


Insights from Black Box Guest Intelligence

 

      • Guests reported a decrease in “food” satisfaction for the average restaurant during the last 3 weeks as compared to before the pandemic. Food satisfaction has historically been much lower for off-premise orders than for dine-in orders, so this is not a surprising trend given the shift to off-premise.
      • However, overall “off-premise” mentions on Twitter and review sites have become more positive since before the pandemic began, suggesting that restaurants are improving their execution in these channels.
      • In this environment of uncertainty guests may be more aware of value even when interacting with upscale brands. Upscale casual and fine dining restaurants have seen more positive “value” mentions in the last three weeks than they did for the first three weeks in February, as they increasingly meet guest expectations in this area.

Key Insights – April 29, 2020

 

Financial Trends


Insights from Black Box Financial Intelligence™

 

      • Restaurants have now had 3 consecutive weeks in which YOY comp sales improved compared with the previous week.
      • Comp sales for the week ending April 19 were -47.6%, the best result posted by the industry since March 15 and an 11.3 percentage point improvement from last week’s comp sales.
      • All industry segments experienced an improvement in their comp sales results over the last 2 weeks.
      • Quick service continues to be the top performing segment; at -4% comp sales for the week ending April 19, quick service is close to start experience flat sales growth YOY.
      • Fine dining is the only segment that continues to experience comp sales worse than -80% and that has experienced little improvement over the last 5 weeks. Restaurant dine-in reopening, even if under very limited capacity, may be the only thing that could start reducing the rate at which this segment has been losing sales.
      • As would be expected, off-premise comp sales YOY continue growing at a rapidly accelerating pace as a result of the pandemic restrictions. For limited service brands, off-premise sales (including to-go, drive-thru, delivery and catering) increased by +20% YOY during the week. For full service brands, the increase in off-premise sales was +207% YOY.
      • Mid-afternoon and dinner were the best performing day parts based on comp sales during the week. Late night and lunch had the worst comp sales.
      • All 11 regions of the country improved comp sales results during the week ending April 19 in comparison with results for the previous week.
      • The worst performing regions based on comp sales continue to be those were major outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred: California, New England, the Western region (which includes Washington state) and New York-New Jersey. All of these regions had comp sales worse than -55% during the week.

 

Consumer Trends


Insights from Black Box Consumer Intelligence

 

      • Wine and liquor stores have performed well throughout the pandemic with positive YOY sales growth of greater than 25% for the last 6 consecutive weeks. This strong growth may be at least partly motivated by replacement of alcoholic beverages previously consumed at restaurants. Alcoholic beverage sales growth in casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining has averaged about -98% YOY over the last 4 weeks.
      • Convenience store sales did not deteriorate as quickly as restaurant sales, but they have steadily declined over the last 4 weeks and are down -36% YOY as of  the week ending April 19.
      • While third party delivery (3PD) sales volume has increased for all days of the week during the COVID-19 crisis, weekends remain the most popular time to order. 37% of all 3PD sales in the last 30 days occurred on a Saturday or a Sunday.

 

Dear Restaurants,

From our family to yours, this message is for you…

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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