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How the pandemic impacted restaurants’ spending

Orders fell by nearly a quarter overall, but purchases of things like disposable bags and food safety products soared.
US Supply Chain
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants’ spending on food and other products fell off significantly last year as the coronavirus pandemic left much of the industry hamstrung.

U.S. restaurants averaged 24.5% fewer orders during the pandemic than they did prior, according to research from foodservice procurement service Buyers Edge Platform, which analyzed $6 billion worth of restaurant orders placed since the pandemic began.

Not surprisingly, orders aligned with the ups and downs of the pandemic over the course of the year. They plummeted during the week ending March 22—when many states closed indoor dining—by almost 68%, according to Buyers Edge. As restrictions began to ease over the summer, orders improved, and by October were exceeding pre-pandemic levels. But when virus cases spiked again in November and December, ordering fell off again, hitting negative 30% by the end of December, Buyers Edge found.

Ordering trends mirrored the contours of the pandemic in other ways, too. For instance, purchases of disposable bags, boxes and lids skyrocketed as restaurants turned increasingly to delivery and takeout. So did orders of health and food safety products: From February to December, such items grew 81% as a percentage of restaurants’ monthly orders, a reflection of operators’ efforts to meet new regulations and make their businesses as safe as possible. Meanwhile, frozen desserts made up an outsize portion of food orders, jumping 145% as restaurants sought to fulfill customers’ demand for comfort.

Not all restaurants were impacted equally. For restaurants in Nevada and Hawaii, which rely heavily on tourism, average weekly orders dropped by 65% and 59%, respectively, during the pandemic. On the other hand, Wisconsin, South Dakota and South Carolina ended the year with average weekly order volumes slightly above pre-pandemic levels.  

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