The restaurant industry closed 2020 by “moving its way out of the steepest declines the industry has experienced since the Great Recession,” according to a new update from The NPD Group.
Restaurant transactions in December 2020 were down 10 percent compared to the same period one year ago. However, that figure is a 27-point improvement from restaurant transactions in April 2020 — at the height of shelter-in-place mandates in the U.S. — when transactions were down 37 percent from the previous year.
That improvement doesn’t look equal across all sectors in the restaurant biz, though. NPD notes in its recent report that full-service restaurants, which typically did not have much in the way of to-go strategies in place at the start of 2020, “bore the brunt of transaction declines throughout the pandemic.” In April, full-service transactions declined by -70 percent compared to a year ago; they improved to -30 percent in December.
Individual state restrictions also have something to do with the numbers around full-service restaurants. NPD noted that In more restrictive states, full service restaurant chain transactions are down 60 percent to 70 percent. In less restrictive states, “there isn’t as much of a gap between quick service and full service restaurants.”
Most major QSRs were already better prepared to shift to off-premises operations when the pandemic struck in full force last year. Some, like Chipotle and Starbucks, had existing strategies in place around digital, drive-thru, and express store formats. Others, like McDonald’s, had the deep pockets and technical expertise to pivot quickly — a luxury most smaller chains and independent restaurants cannot afford.
According to NPD, major QSRs’ takeout, drive-thru, and delivery orders “soared” over the last several months, despite restrictions across the overall restaurant industry: “Quick service customer transaction declines bottomed out in April with a decline of -35% versus year ago, but quickly improved as shelter-at-home orders were lifted. In December, quick service restaurant chain customer transaction declines were down -8% versus last year.”
With things like speed of service, simpler menus, and more-efficient kitchens remaining top priorities for restaurants in 2021, improvements to the overall industry is likely to remain divided between the quick-service chains and their full-service counterparts for some time to come.