Restaurant sales grew for the seventh consecutive month in September, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. National Restaurant Association chief economist Bruce Grindy said it showed clear pent-up demand and a labor market that isn’t stalling.
Eating and drinking places reported total sales of $91.9 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, up 0.9 percent from August. The third quarter in total saw consumer spending in restaurants lift 9.7 percent, year-over-year. As Grindy pointed out, the result was more than four times stronger than the modest 2.2 percent sales gain registered in non-restaurant retail sectors during the same four-quarter period.
“Real restaurant sales” also trended higher in recent months. What this shows is sales gains are outpacing increases in menu prices. After adjusting for menu price inflation, eating and drinking sales were 3 percent higher between the third quarters of 2022 and 2023.
The labor market Grindy referenced pulsed in September as well, with the same field adding 60,700 jobs, pushing it nearly 30,000 spots above February 2020’s peak. In other terms, the industry, for the first time since pre-pandemic, had as many filled jobs (more, in fact) serving guests across America. Restaurants filled more than 6 million jobs since March 2020.
Recent Q3 data from Revenue Management Solutions shows upward trends as well. The quick-service sector reported overall traffic down 0.8 percent, year-over-year, but a better performance than Q2 when the number was negative 1.8 percent versus the comparable year-ago period.
Dine-in (14.5 percent) and takeout (12.7 percent) lifted double digits over Q3 2022 and delivery rose 22 percent, which was a sizable jump from last year when it was 14.8 percent higher, year-over-year. Drive-thru, which now accounts for two-thirds of quick-service industry revenue in COVID’s wake, per RMS, was down 6.8 percent in Q3. However, it’s trending positively for the year as well.
One potential positive culprit at hand across the board? Average price continues to slide. While up 7.7 percent year-over-year in Q3, it registered a large dip from Q2 (10.6 percent) and has steadily declined for nearly a year. Net sales, as higher prices continue to cover negative traffic trends, remained positive at 5.2 percent, year-over-year. Average check was up 6 percent in Q3, year-over-year. Quantity per transaction decreased 1.5 percent.