The pandemic is over, at least for the nation’s restaurant income line.
Food services and drinking places generated $ 64.9 billion in sales in April, according to retail sales data released by the US Census Bureau on Friday. This was up 3% from March and was more than double what it was in April a year ago – when the industry lost more than half of its sales as states closed theaters in eat to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Perhaps more importantly, it is up 2% from April 2019, meaning that the industry has effectively returned to a more normal state, at least in terms of the revenue it receives from customers for the food and drink.
Restaurant sales are picking up
Source: United States Census Bureau
Certainly, there is still a hurdle to clear before restaurants can truly say they are recovered. Sales remain about 5% lower than they should have been had there not been a pandemic and the industry has continued to grow at about the rate of inflation.
Still, this is a clear sign of the rapid and wide recovery in restaurants over the past two months. Consumers, armed with stimulus payments and excess unemployment benefits, spent in restaurants, ate inside casual eateries and lined up at the drive-thru nationwide.
All forms of spending in the industry appear to be up from 2019 levels. San Diego-based burger chain Jack in the Box said Thursday its same-store sales were up more than 16% from 2019 levels in its final quarter. Casual restaurant chain Cheesecake Factory said its April sales were up 7% from 2019 levels.
Third-party delivery also continued to generate strong sales, as did pizza chains now believe they can maintain the strong sales they generated last year, even as consumers return to dine inside restaurants. .
Independent restaurants also had strong sales, at least according to major distributors US Foods and Sysco. “The independent restaurant industry surpassing 2019 sales levels in reopened markets is a positive result and a faster rebound than the industry expected,” Sysco CEO Kevin Hourican told investors earlier this this month.
According to Black Box Intelligence, same-store sales in April were 6.8% higher than in 2019, an improvement of 460 basis points from March.
Two-year comparable store sales have been positive for seven straight weeks, Black Box said on Wednesday, although it noted that they had slowed down during the week ended May 2, perhaps suggesting that the impact of stimulus payments is starting to wane.
Indeed, according to data research firm Facteus, restaurant sales slowed from 21% more than in 2019 in the week ending April 18 to 12% more during the week ending May 9. Fast food restaurants slowed from 27% to 20%.
Yet soaring sales have created intense demand for labor as restaurants struggle to recruit workers, while creating headaches in the supply chain as producers – many of whom have their own labor issues – struggled to produce enough things like ketchup packets and chicken wings.
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