March is supposed to come in like a lion and leave like a lamb, but with 97 percent of U.S. restaurants impacted by mandated dine-in closures by mid-March, the month left like an angry lion for America’s foodservice industry. Restaurant traffic declined by 22 percent in the month compared to same month year ago, but a testament to the U.S. consumers’ want for someone other than themselves to make their meals, digital restaurant orders increased by 63 percent and delivery by 67 percent in March, reports The NPD Group

Visits to quick service restaurants, many of which already had off-premise operations, like carry-out and drive-thru, in place prior to the dine-in closures, decreased by 19 percent. Quick-serves represented the majority of the digital and delivery order gains. Drive-thru visits declined by 3 percent but family or larger party size visits drove dollars up by 2 percent and average eater check increased by 5 percent according to NPD’s CREST, which tracks daily restaurant usage across the U.S.

Full-service restaurants, which were already challenged prior to the pandemic, realized traffic declines of 35 percent in the month of March compared to year ago March. On-premise traffic share prior the pandemic represented 80 percent of the business and off-premise 20 percent. Full-serves able to offer carry-out and delivery were able to lift the segment’s off-premise traffic share by 31 percent. The full-service average check size increased by 15 percent in the month.

“Our March results only show a portion of the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the U.S. restaurant industry,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.  “Although it’s fact that a larger portion of food and beverage consumption has shifted to in-home, it’s clear that consumers are not willing to give up on the convenience and experience a restaurant meal brings to them and their families regardless of the barriers.”

Consumer Trends, News