U.S. major restaurant chain customer transactions were down 14 percent in the week ending June 7 versus the same week a year ago, a 29 point gain from the steepest decline during the COVID-19 pandemic of negative 43 percent in week ending April 12, reports The NPD Group. Sixty-nine percent of restaurant units are now in geographies that permit some level of on-premise dining and the number could increase to 74 percent in week ending June 14.

Major full service restaurant chains are still seeing the most improvement of restaurant segments as more dining rooms open and those already open increase capacity. The segment improved 7 percent in the week ending June 7 over last week and has improved 49 points since the industry hit bottom the week ending April 12. Even with the positive momentum, the segment is still down 30 percent versus year ago, according to CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 72 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains.   

Quick service restaurant chains have fared better throughout the pandemic and continue to do so. Major chains were able to pivot operations to off-premises fast after the dine-in restrictions went into effect across the country since many have drive-thru windows and are set up to handle a high volume of takeout orders. Quick-service customer transactions were down 13 percent in the week ending June 7 versus year ago. Given the lesser dependence on dining room traffic than full-serves, counter-service week-over-week improvement in transaction declines was only 4 percent.

“The value of incremental on-premise sales isn’t as important to quick service restaurants,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “In fact, some have resisted reopening dining rooms preferring to forego the incremental cost of doing so and continue to optimize off-premise sales.”

In terms of dayparts, lunch has historically been the strongest restaurant daypart, followed by dinner. Breakfast is still the daypart most likely to be prepared and eaten at home, but expanded restaurant offerings in recent years have started to move more morning meals from homes to drive-thru windows. When stay-at-home orders became widespread, breakfast was the restaurant meal most easily converted back to the home.

Throughout NPD’s tracking of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the restaurant industry, the morning meal, which represents a breakfast or morning snack occasion, has suffered the steepest transaction declines. Morning meal customer transactions at major restaurant chains fell by 18 percent in the week ending June 7 compared to same week year ago. Lunch transactions declined by 11 percent in the week compared to same week year ago and customer transactions were down 12 percent at dinner, reports NPD.

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