Sales at U.S. eating and drinking places will jump 10.2% in 2021 to an aggregate $548.3 billion as consumers indulge pent-up demand for restaurant experiences they were denied during the pandemic, according to a forecast released by the National Restaurant Association.
That increase would follow a 19.2% drop in restaurant and bar sales during 2020, blasted in the association’s 2021 State of the Industry Report as “the most challenging year for the restaurant industry.”
The sales rebound will be slightly stronger for full-service establishments, with the association forecasting a 10.7% rise in nominal sales for what is universally regarded as the restaurant sector hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis. Negating the impact of inflation, places offering table service should split a rise of 7.6%, the “real” growth that some equate with traffic gains.
That compares with real growth for the whole industry of 6.7%.
Still, full-service restaurants will fail to reclaim the $85.5 billion they collectively lost in sales during 2020 as states closed dining rooms and consumers sheltered at home. Sales for that sector fell last year by 30%, or roughly a third.
The NRA forecasts total sales for full-service restaurants to top $228.8 billion this year, compared with a total intake of $199.5 billion last year and $285 billion in 2019
Limited-service restaurants—researchers’ term for quick-service and fast-casual places—will see an 8% rise in nominal sales and a 4% increase in real revenues in 2021, according to the association’s data. The sector’s total intake will top total 2020 sales for the segment by $23.2 billion, while outstripping the 2019 tally by $4.7 billion, the association says.
The business group that will see the sharpest increase in sales this year is also the one that was hurt most deeply in 2020: Bars and taverns, which the association measures separately from restaurants that serve alcohol. Sales for that category will shoot upward by 80.2% in nominal terms and 77.6% on an inflation-adjusted basis in 2021, the annual report states.
Still, that would leave the sector-wide sales down about 37% from the total generated in 2019.
The restaurant association bases its expectations for 2021 at least in part on pent-up demand for dining out. It cites findings last year that 83% of American adults said they were not eating in a restaurant as often as they’d like.
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