Black Box: Sales still flat, traffic still falling

But the industry’s same-store sales have stabilized in recent months.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Same-store sales in October rose just 0.1%, according to the latest Black Box Intelligence index, as the industry continued to struggle to post positive overall numbers with traffic in a steep decline.

Same-store traffic declined 3.1% in the month, a slight deterioration from September, as the industry continued to lose customers and rely on pricing and average check for sales growth.

Still, the industry’s same-store sales rose for the second month in a row in October despite tougher comparisons, and represent something of a stabilization in overall trends. On a two-year basis, same-store sales rose 1%.

“The industry’s two-year same-store sales growth continues to be positive and stable,” Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge for TDn2K, which publishes the Black Box index, said in a statement.

“Given the relentless erosion of guest counts, the industry is holding its ground surprisingly well when it comes to sales in the most recent months.”

The index is based on weekly sales from restaurant chains with more than 31,000 locations and $72 billion in annual sales.

In recent years, it has reflected a steady stream of declining traffic. Same-store traffic has averaged a decline of 3.2% since the beginning of the second quarter. That has come as the number of locations has continued to increase, even though the rate of that increase has slowed in recent years.

As such, the number of visits is diluted by a growing supply of locations.

Any growth in the industry came from takeout sales. TDn2K said that it’s become “the norm” for the industry to see declining dine-in sales and increasing takeout sales.

The use of third-party delivery is growing, too. A recent Black Box survey found that 86% of restaurant companies currently use some form of third-party delivery, up from 82% at the end of 2018.

That focus on takeout is one reason for the decline in casual dining, which has struggled with four straight months of negative same-store sales, according to Black Box. Fine dining and family dining both saw sales growth, as did upscale casual.

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