After 10 consecutive months of traffic gains over steep pandemic-related declines, the U.S. restaurant industry’s recovery stalled in January, reports The NPD Group. Physical and online visits to U.S. restaurants were down 2% in January compared to an 8% decline in January 2021. The 4% increase in consumer spending at restaurants reflects higher food and operational costs. Total restaurant traffic, online and physical, is down 10% from the pre-pandemic level in January 2020, according to NPD’s continual tracking of the U.S. foodservice industry.
Online and physical visits to quick service restaurants, which represent the bulk of industry traffic and historically have led the industry out of challenging times, declined by 3% in the month compared to a year ago when visits decreased by 3% in January 2021, down 7% from January 2020. Full service restaurant traffic increased by 2% this January, over a 22% decline in January 2021, and was down 21% from two years ago, before the pandemic.
Although dine-in traffic increased by 40% in January, the jump compares to a 61% decline in January 2021. On-premises visits this January were down 46% from the pre-pandemic level in January 2020. Off-premises orders, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery, were down 10% in the month compared to a 22% increase in January 2021.
“No one ever said the road to recovery would be smooth and steady. Right now, we’re experiencing a dip in the road due to the omicron variant and stimulus money expiring,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Looking ahead, we should expect volatility. February restaurant numbers will be compared to a rough February last year because of extreme weather. My advice is don’t get too discouraged by January or too elated if February seems great. Just stay the course because we’re on a steady path of gradual improvement.”