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A look back at consumers' restaurant usage during the past year

03/19/2021 | 11:23am EDT

As the novel coronavirus began to spread globally in early 2020, it was clear that it would have a significant impact on the U.S. restaurant industry. To measure this impact, the National Restaurant Association launched a weekly survey of 1,000 adults (beginning in February 2020) to track how consumers were using restaurants.

This article takes a look back at consumers' restaurant usage throughout the first 12 months of the pandemic, as measured by the Association's weekly survey. Note that this is not a measure of sales or traffic. Rather, it tracks the extent to which U.S. adults participated in restaurant and foodservice on a week-to-week basis.

The survey asks consumers about their restaurant patronage during the breakfast, lunch and dinner dayparts - both on-premises and off-premises - as well as the afternoon snack/beverage period.

For comparison purposes, the 54 weeks of survey data are divided into 6 periods:

  • Pre-Pandemic (2/24/20 - 3/15/20)
  • Lockdown (3/16/20 - 5/24/20)
  • Initial Reopening (5/25/20 - 6/14/20)
  • Summer/Fall (6/15/20 - 11/29/20)
  • Winter Restrictions (11/30/20 - 1/31/21)
  • Early Spring 2021 (2/1/21 - 3/14/21)

In the months ahead, the survey will continue to track consumers' restaurant usage as the nation moves toward a post-pandemic environment.

Below is a summary of trends in consumers' restaurant and foodservice participation during the past year for the 7 restaurant occasions tracked by the weekly survey. The figures in the charts represent the average percent of adults each week that used restaurants during the reference period.

On-premises dinner: Usage remains dampened across all age groups

  • During the Pre-Pandemic period, an average of 59% of adults each week went out for dinner at a sit-down restaurant or fast-food place. Gen Z adults (72%) and Millennials (65%) were the most likely to go out for dinner in the weeks leading up to the pandemic.
  • On-premises dinner patronage fell sharply during the Lockdown period, with average weekly usage plunging by more than 40 percentage points.
  • As the weather improved mid-2020, more people started going out for dinner. An average of 35% of adults each week went out for dinner during the Summer/Fall period.
  • After a slight dip during the Winter Restrictions period, on-premises dinner activity trended higher as spring approached. However, the 37% of adults each week that went out for dinner during the Early Spring 2021 period was more than 20 percentage points below the Pre-Pandemic level.
  • On-premises dinner frequency remains dampened across all age groups. Only 25% of baby boomers each week went out for dinner during the Early Spring 2021 period - down from 50% in the Pre-Pandemic period.

Off-premises dinner: Growth in usage across all age groups

  • Prior to the pandemic, an average of 58% of adults each week purchased takeout or delivery for dinner. Millennials (72%) and Gen Z adults (66%) were the most likely to order takeout or delivery for dinner.
  • As restaurants pivoted to off-premises during the Lockdown period, an increasing proportion of consumers starting using takeout and delivery for dinner.
  • By the Initial Reopening period in late-May, a majority of adults across all age groups were ordering takeout or delivery for dinner.
  • As of the Early Spring 2021 period, consumers' usage of takeout and delivery for dinner was elevated across all age groups, compared to pre-pandemic levels. Overall, the largest gains in weekly off-premises dinner usage were seen among Gen Xers (from 58% to 66%) and baby boomers (from 44% to 51%).

On-premises lunch: Consumer activity remains below pre-pandemic levels

  • During the Pre-Pandemic period, an average of 40% of adults each week went out for lunch at a sit-down fast-food place, restaurant or deli. Gen Z adults (48%) and Millennials (45%) were the most likely to go out for lunch in the weeks leading up to the pandemic.
  • Average weekly on-premises lunch activity fell by nearly 30 percentage points during the Lockdown period, with declines seen across all age groups.
  • On-premises lunch usage only registered modest gains during the initial months after the lockdowns, likely because many people were still not going into work.
  • During the Early Spring 2021 period, an average of 26% of adults each week went out for lunch at a sit-down fast-food place, restaurant or deli.
  • On-premises lunch usage remained dampened across all age groups, with activity among Gen Xers and baby boomers the furthest from their pre-pandemic levels.

Off-premises lunch: Strong growth in activity across all age groups

  • During the Pre-Pandemic period, an average of 38% of adults ordered takeout or delivery for lunch from a fast-food place, restaurant or deli. Millennials (50%) and Gen Z adults (48%) were the most likely to use off-premises options for lunch in the weeks leading up to the pandemic.
  • Consumers' usage of takeout and delivery for lunch increased as the economy went into lockdown, and continued to rise throughout the first 12 months of the pandemic.
  • By the Early Spring 2021 period, an average of 48% of adults each week ordered takeout or delivery for lunch. That was 10 percentage points higher than the Pre-Pandemic average.
  • Consumers across all age groups increased their usage of off-premises lunch options during the pandemic. Millennials saw the largest growth: increasing from 50% during the Pre-Pandemic period to 63% in the Early Spring 2021 period.

On-premises breakfast: Activity remains below pre-pandemic levels

  • In the weeks leading up to the pandemic, an average of 27% of adults went out for breakfast at a sit-down fast-food place, coffee shop or restaurant. Gen Z adults and Millennials (both 34%) were the most likely to go out for breakfast during the Pre-Pandemic period.
  • Like all on-premises dayparts, the proportion of consumers going out for breakfast fell sharply during the Lockdown period.
  • Although consumers' likelihood of going out for breakfast increased during the months since the economy emerged from lockdowns, it remains below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Gen Z adults and Millennials are the closest to returning to their pre-pandemic usage of on-premises breakfast.

Off-premises breakfast: Consumer usage is similar to pre-pandemic levels

  • During the Pre-Pandemic period, an average of 30% of adults each week picked up a breakfast meal, snack or beverage from a fast-food place, coffee shop or restaurant. Gen Z adults (42%) and Millennials (39%) were the most likely to get takeout in the morning in the weeks leading up to the pandemic.
  • The proportion of adults picking up a breakfast meal or beverage from a restaurant or coffee shop declined during the first several weeks of the pandemic, likely because many people were not going into work.
  • Consumers' use of takeout in the morning rose as the economy began to reopen, and reached pre-pandemic levels by the Summer/Fall period.
  • Unlike the off-premises lunch and dinner dayparts that experienced significant growth, consumer usage of breakfast takeout remains generally on par with pre-pandemic levels.

Afternoon snacks and beverages: Higher usage among millennials

  • During the Pre-Pandemic period, an average of 30% of adults picked up a snack or beverage in the afternoon from a fast food place, coffee shop or restaurant. Gen Z adults (46%) and Millennials (40%) were the most likely to go get a snack or beverage in the afternoon.
  • Although afternoon snack and beverage activity dipped during the initial months of the pandemic, it returned to normal levels by the Summer/Fall period.
  • Millennials were the only age group to significantly increase their afternoon snack and beverage usage: rising from 40% during the Pre-Pandemic period to 48% in the Early Spring 2021 period.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.

Disclaimer

National Restaurant Association of America published this content on 19 March 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 19 March 2021 16:22:06 UTC.


© Publicnow 2021
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