Restaurant industry sales stumbled again in November as the number of COVID cases rose rapidly and colder weather began to become a barrier to outdoor dining in many parts of the country. Same-store sales growth was -10.3%, down 3.8 percentage points from the year-over-year sales growth rate in October. Same-store traffic of -16.3% in November was down 3.3 percentage points from the prior month’s performance. It was the worst month for the industry since August based on year-over-year sales and traffic losses.
But perhaps the most worrying take on the latest data is that restaurant sales deteriorated throughout the month. Additionally, the last week of November saw same-store sales growth the industry’s worst in nearly four months, signaling that we may be in the midst of another restaurant downturn.
But there is good news for the industry coming from the latest data insights uncovered by Black Box Intelligence™. Although sales were not good during the month, customers indicated that they were increasingly satisfied with their experiences at the restaurant. Customers have rallied around the restaurants and been forgiving despite the many challenges facing the industry.
In November, the percentage of online restaurant mentions and reviews that were rated as positive increased by 7.0 percentage points compared to the same month in 2019. Service-related mentions became more positive by 6 .0 percentage points year over year. The crucial return intent metric also turned more positive in November, an encouraging sign of restaurants’ efforts to increase customer satisfaction amid the pandemic. Additionally, return intent scores are almost at levels they were just before the virus outbreak in March.
Join the dots
Considering that the sentiment of restaurant food is improving among customers, an opportunity arises to explore their favorite menu items. What foods do they mention most often and attribute a positive feeling? As you might expect, the response varied greatly between different types of restaurants.
In the case of restaurants with limited service, by far the most frequently mentioned menu item to describe a positive food experience in November was pizza. The second most mentioned menu items were burgers, followed by chicken (which included chicken sandwiches). This is welcome validation for restaurants that are successfully selling these items. According to financial data tracked by Black Box Intelligence, the three types of restaurant cuisine that have outperformed others throughout the pandemic are precisely pizza, burgers and chicken. While the rest of the industry struggles, restaurants specializing in these food items are seeing strong positive same-store sales growth on average. But overlaying this customer sentiment data reveals that while these menu items benefit from being typically associated with limited-service restaurants (which fare better overall) and being well-suited to the ‘off-site sales environment, success is also coming. of great execution. Customers mention these menu items the most and when they do, they overwhelmingly describe a positive experience.
For full-service restaurants, the menu item that got the most positive mentions from customers in November was steak. And it’s pertinent to mention that it’s not driven by high-end fine dining or even casual dining. Steak was the most mentioned menu item at casual dining when it came to describing a positive eating experience.
The other most frequently mentioned menu items with positive sentiment in November were wings, followed by salad.
Main designated market areas
There is a sense of normalcy that has returned to the sentiment of restaurant customers locally. Specifically, Orlando, Florida tops the list of major markets with the most positive restaurant sentiment, as was the norm before the pandemic. In November, Orlando restaurant diners felt the most positively when they rated their experiences with key food and service metrics.
What’s interesting to point out are the changes in the list of top markets with the most positive restaurant vibe sentiment. This attribute of restaurant experience has taken on more and more importance this year since it incorporates the very relevant component of cleanliness. Over the past few months, it has been highlighted how much of the improvement in the feeling of ambience is due to the improvement in the feeling of cleanliness.
The markets with the highest mood sentiment in November were Los Angeles, Phoenix, Orlando, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. With the exception of Los Angeles, none of these other major markets reached the top 5 last month . As the number of COVID cases increases, guests may have become more concerned about ambience and cleanliness. Restaurants in these cities seem to be rising to the challenge and better responding to increased customer expectations.
The restaurant guest satisfaction snapshot is produced using data from Guest Intelligence™, a Black Box Intelligence™ product. Guest Intelligence tracks over 190 brands to gauge guest satisfaction and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The algorithm determining brand ranking is sentiment-based and determined by Black Box Guest Intelligence. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must also have a minimum number of units to be eligible. DMA ratings only consider the 25 largest areas.
Black Box Intelligence™ (formerly TDn2K) is the leading provider of workforce, guest, consumer and financial performance data and insights for the hospitality industry. The Black Box Intelligence product suite is the industry standard for operators looking to achieve best-in-class performance results. With the largest and most trusted real-world restaurant dataset, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes over 290 brands, 2.5 million employees, 50,000 restaurant units and $76 billion of annual turnover. Black Box Intelligence is also the producer of the Global Best Practices Conference held annually in Dallas, Texas.