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Consumer Trends

Last COVID wave brought a shift in full-service checks, Black Box finds

Single-meal and big-group orders lost share of spend to tabs in the $20-$80 range.
covid checks
Photograph: Shutterstock

The COVID-triggered restrictions re-imposed on full-service restaurants at the end of 2020 had an impact on check size as well as traffic, with orders in the $20-$80 range increasing significantly at the expense of single-meal and big-party purchases, according to new research.

The data from Black Box Intelligence shows a particularly sharp drop in orders totaling more than $80, which the researcher tied to the imposition of tighter limits on party sizes and warnings against at-home gatherings after COVID cases soared post-Thanksgiving. State and local governments implored consumers at the time to limit their exposure to coronavirus by foregoing the holiday socializing typical of past years.

Orders ranging from $100 to $200 dropped as a portion of total consumer spend at full-service restaurants in December, after steadily rising from August through November, according to Black Box.

Tickets totaling $20 or less did not decline in number, according to the researcher, but the rate of growth slowed in December after improving every month since April.  Tabs of that size are virtually a “proxy” for solo diners, Black Box noted.

Off-premise sales continued to grow for full-service restaurants through January, but the rise was insufficient to offset the decline in on-site dining, a result of dining rooms be reclosed or subject to tighter capacity limits, according to the researcher.

Industrywide, sales climbed in January to 95.1% of the year-ago level, and traffic rose to 87.8%, making last month the best sales period for the business since March, Black Box said.

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