Federal shutdown cut D.C. restaurant traffic 23%, study finds

The decline was particularly sharp for fine-dining restaurants and local units of Starbucks and Chick-fil-A.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Visits to restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area fell by 23% during the 35-day shutdown of the federal government, with traffic dropping particularly sharply for Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and Arby’s, according to new data from a local researcher, Gravy Analytics, based in Dulles, Va.

Transactions at those brands fell year over year by 34%, 27% and 24%, respectively, the research revealed. The reasons behind the steeper declines for those chains were not revealed.

Guest counts rose during the shutdown by 9% at KFC, 4% at Dairy Queen and 1% at Taco Bell and Dunkin’, the data show.

The report also did not differentiate between the effects of the shutdown, which ran from Dec. 22 through Jan. 25, from the impact of bad weather during that period.

Gravy noted that pricier restaurants fared worse than places sporting better values. Foot traffic at fine-dining restaurants plummeted 33%, compared with declines at quick-service establishments and coffee shops (a la Starbucks), of 23% and 31%, respectively.

How hard did the government shutdown hit restaurant chains?

Source: Gravy Analytics

During that time frame, nationwide traffic at limited-service establishments increased by 2%, according to Gravy.

The findings echo what operators in the D.C. area said during and immediately after the shutdown. Founding Farmers, for instance, told CNBC that sales at its restaurants were down 15% to 30%.

The damage to the industry seemed limited to markets in and around the nation’s capital. January same-store sales at restaurant chains nationwide rose by an average of 2%, according to Black Box Intelligence, a researcher that tracks sales and traffic.  

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


BK franchisee Carrols goes from tragedy to triumph

The big Burger King franchisee has overcome a pandemic, inflation, questions about its future and the death of multiple executives to become the industry’s best turnaround story of 2023.


Who's on your fantasy restaurant-management team?

Reality Check: Why bother with fantasy football when the ideal virtual C-suite is waiting to be picked? Here's my roster.


Veggie Grill evolves the menu to keep pace with plant-based trends

Behind the Menu: Since the fast casual’s start in 2006, many new meat and dairy alternatives have come to market and consumers’ health perceptions have changed. Veggie Grill has been forced to change too.


More from our partners