Restaurant sales continued to decline for the second consecutive month in January as the United States reached the peak of the omicron variant outbreak of COVID-19, according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau. Restaurant sales peaked in November at $73.1 billion, before falling to $72.7 billion in December and $72 billion in January, the lowest monthly sales volume since June 2021.
This drop in “restaurants and drinking places” sales did not match the rest of the retail sector’s sales, which rose 3.8% in January, beating expectations. Restaurant sales have fallen back below pre-pandemic levels, which from the second half of 2019 until the start of the pandemic never fell below $72.5 billion in November 2019.
“Yesterday’s sales numbers highlight the unique and devastating impact that restaurants continue to feel from the pandemic,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “While most of the economy showed growth in January, restaurant sales fell for a second consecutive month; after adjusting for inflation, sales were nearly $3 billion below mid-2021.”
According to the National Restaurant Association’s January survey of 4,200 restaurant owners, restaurants are feeling the significant drop in sales related to omicron (and labor and supply chain). More than half of restaurants have shortened their opening hours and 34% have started closing on days when they would normally be open. On top of that, recent data from the US Department of Labor showed a 12.8% increase in food prices this year, which the Independent Restaurant Coalition says is an unsustainable restaurant that’s already struggling.
Both the Independent Restaurant Coalition and the National Restaurant Association, along with other restaurant advocates, are vying for more relief for restaurants, which has been rumored several times but never materialized.
“Small business restaurants are not like other small businesses,” Kennedy said. “Even in the best of times, they perform a balancing act to provide exceptional service and make ends meet. Thousands of these restaurants were left in limbo when the Restaurant Revitalization Fund closed, and without the replenishment, chances are we’ll start to see many of them close.
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