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Restaurant sales show signs of life

Numbers from Black Box Intelligence indicate that the industry has found its bottom and is slowly regaining some customers.
Photograph by Jonathan Maze

The restaurant industry might have found its bottom, at least as far as sales are concerned.

Same-store sales, which had fallen 67% in the last week of March, declined 62.3% in the week ended April 5, according to new data from Black Box Intelligence.

While that remains an epic decline that is putting many restaurant chains in a serious bind, it is still an improvement of 4.7 percentage points, suggesting that the industry is clawing back at least some of its lost sales. And all types of cuisine regained some ground.

The numbers are echoed by some of the chains themselves. Interviews with operators and others have suggested consumers have adjusted to their lives since states began closing down dining rooms in mid-March and instituted stay-at-home orders.

Many restaurants have also adjusted marketing, with more advertising of takeout, while chains are heavily pushing their own delivery services, supported by marketing from third-party players such as Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

Orlando, Fla.-based casual-dining operator Darden Restaurants has seen improvement at its bigger chains as it has focused more on takeout and instituted some self-delivery.

Olive Garden, for instance, saw same-store sales fall 71.1% the week of March 22. By April 5, those same-store sales were down 59.7%.

The biggest problems in the industry remain with restaurants that relied most heavily on dine-in customers, notably fine dining and family dining, both of which saw same-store sales fall more than 80% in the first week of April, according to Black Box.

Full-service brands overall have seen significant declines in guest checks as consumers order fewer drinks and other add-on items more common with dine-in sales. Indeed, full-service chains received only 3.3% of consumers’ total food spending. In January, that was 10%.

By contrast, limited-service restaurants accounted for 16.5% of consumers’ food spending, down from 22% in January, according to Black Box.

Groceries, meanwhile, accounted for 78% of food spending. In January, they made up 66%.

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