Restaurant sales bounced back in May, but not nearly enough

Sales rose 29% in May from April’s low, suggesting the industry has found the bottom, but it remains well below normal.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurant sales bounced back in May, according to new federal data, as consumers continued to emerge from quarantine to use drive-thrus and other takeout services and states started gradually reopening dining rooms.

Food services and drinking places sales rose 29% to $38.6 billion, leading a 17.7% overall increase in retail sales last month, according to new U.S. Census data.

The numbers suggest that the industry has hit a bottom. April sales were just under $30 billion, less than half of where they were in April a year ago and the lowest sales number for the industry in well over a decade.

Yet May’s sales, while an improvement, remain well below normal. The industry has a long way to go to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic and state-led quarantines that closed dine-in service at restaurants around the country.

May’s restaurant sales are still $25 billion below where they were a year ago. Sales have to improve another 39% before they can fully recover.

Chains reporting their sales figures have all suggested things are improving. Denny’s, the family dining chain, said on Tuesday that same-store sales have improved each week since early April to a decline of 40% in the week ended June 10 from a decline of 79% in the last week of March.

Meanwhile, the number of restaurants with operating dining rooms have increased from 11 on April 29 to 1,234 on June 10.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s also said it’s improving, from a decline of 19.2% in the U.S. in April to a decline of 5.1% in May.

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