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Consumer Trends

Casual dining's traffic is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, study finds

The sector's customer counts should top 2019 levels by the end of summer, according to the report.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Customer traffic at casual-dining chains pulled within 3.8% of 2019 levels in June and will likely shoot past pre-pandemic benchmarks by the end of summer, according to a report on the segment by the research firm Placer.ai.

The report on the financial performance of 28 full-service brands revealed that a number of well-known casual brands, and steak specialists in particular, are already drawing more onsite visits than they did two years ago. Traffic jumped 18.9% above the 2019 level at LongHorn Steakhouse and 19.8% at The Capitol Grille, the two steakhouse operations of Darden Restaurants, according to Placer.ai. Texas Roadhouse saw a 16.8% rise.

The researcher noted that the rebound in foot traffic is happening quickly. It cited the example of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, the polished-casual steak brand run by Bloomin’ Brands. In April of this year, the chain suffered a 12.3% drop from the customer counts of April 2019. In June, visits increased 1.9% from the pre-pandemic level.

Casual dining traffic is coming back

 

Source: Placer.ai

In general, Placer.ai data show that pricey brands are faring well in terms of traffic. The overall top gainer among the 28 chains studied by the researcher was Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, one of the higher ticket brands within Darden’s fold. The small upscale concept saw customer counts soar 28.3% above the 2019 mark in June.

The report turns a spotlight on what’s been a subtle challenge for the industry. While sales for most segments of the business have rebounded from 2019 levels, traffic remained a challenge. A significant portion of the gain in dollars has been the result of higher pricing. Sales for May increased industrywide by 4%, but pricing increased 7%, according to statistics from Black Box Intelligence.

Many chains have been loathed to focus on value-oriented customer draws, the usual remedy for sluggish traffic, because statistics show that consumers are accepting higher prices in their rush to dine out again.

Placer.ai’s report suggests that deals may not be necessary to revive the traffic of casual dining.

 

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