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As the coronavirus resurges, restaurant sales start slowing again

Sales tracking data suggest that industry sales are slowing as reopenings pause and the virus spreads, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Photograph: Shutterstock
Bottom line

The renewed spread of the coronavirus has put the brakes on the restaurant industry’s comeback.

Data from various sources suggests that restaurant sales have slowed over the past week or two as the virus has had some renewed life. Yet consumers, and not states pausing or pulling back their reopenings, could be the main factor.

According to the restaurant management platform Crunchtime, for instance, industry sales were just 64.5% of their pre-COVID-19 sales levels, a slowdown from 67% each of the previous two weeks, which had been the industry’s peak since the pandemic took hold in March.

Similarly, spending at restaurants has declined over the past two weeks, according to the data firm Facteus. That reflects an overall slowdown in consumer spending, according to the firm.

Daily seated diners tracked by the online reservations portal OpenTable also shows this trend.

Here is the data from the U.S. as a whole, which shows that restaurant traffic has clearly hit a ceiling over the past two weeks.

 

U.S. restaurant sales

The shift is more pronounced, however, in a handful of states where the virus has surged with particular strength. Here is OpenTable data for six states: Florida, North and South Carolina, Texas, Arizona and California.

 

State restaurant sales

The average sales result in those states is clearly declining.

Over the past seven days, for instance, those six states have averaged a decline of 61%, slowing down from a decline of 57% the previous week, and a 50% decline in the week before that—which, at least in those states, was a post-March peak.

Those six states bottomed out on April 26, with an average decline that week of 100%.

Since then Texas, followed by Florida, the Carolinas, Arizona and then California, began opening restaurants to dine-in service, and consumers slowly but surely began returning to their restaurants as they reopened.

As the virus returned, however, sales slowed. Or perhaps consumers unleashed some pent-up demand and then pulled back.

The resurgence in the coronavirus has not had the impact on sales that its initial emergence did in March—when sales quickly plummeted even before states started closing off restaurants.

It’s also important to separate out fast-food restaurants that have largely returned to normal in recent weeks, thanks to their focus on drive-thrus and a design based on takeout.

That said, according to Crunchtime, fast-food sales are slowing, too. They were 96% of pre-COVID levels last week, down from a post-coronavirus peak of 96.7% the week before. Those figures, like everything else, had been improving since April.

Fast-casual concepts have performed less well, but are slowing, too, to 84.4% last week from a high of 88% the week before.

Full-service restaurants, however, remain a weak spot. They’ve slowed each of the past two weeks, to 51.8% of pre-coronavirus sales from 57.8% two weeks earlier, according to Crunchtime.

These slowdowns are coming even though states aren’t taking any real action to shut down restaurants again, though Texas went from 75% capacity to 50% on June 26. Yet Texas restaurants were slowing before that took place.

California’s re-shutdown came last Wednesday, but it was slowing before that, too.

In other words, only so many consumers are willing to dine out at restaurants right now. As long as the coronavirus remains a threat, that lack of customers will remain a problem, too.

And that means many restaurant will be surviving on a fraction of their sales for the foreseeable future.

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