The U.S. restaurant industry continues to recover from last year's steep declines, although not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Total online and physical visits to restaurants were up 5% in the year ending September compared to the same period last year, and down 6% from September 2019. While restaurant visits continue to improve overall, dine-in or on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels, reports The NPD Group.
[64% of diners say positive reviews and high ratings on third-party reservation websites and/or social media are moderate or extreme importance, according to HT's 2021 Customer Engagement Technology Study.]
Dine-in visits to restaurants were down 48% in the 12 months ending September 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic level in the year ending September 2019. Off-premises orders, like carry-out, drive-thru, and delivery, were up 20% versus two years ago September. Year-over-year, dine-in visits declined by 10% in the 12 months ending September compared to a year ago, and off-premises grew by 10% in the period, according to NPD's daily tracking of the U.S. foodservice industry.
Full-service restaurants (FSRs), which rely heavily on dine-in customers, have struggled the most of all restaurant segments during the pandemic. Visits to FSRs in the year ending September 2021 increased by 7% over a 23% decline a year ago. FSR traffic this September was 17% below the pre-pandemic level based on the 12 months ending September 2019. Before the pandemic, FSR on-premises visits represented 80% of the segment's total traffic, with the remaining share being off-premises. For year ending September 2021, dine-in visits represented 56% of FSR traffic, and off-premises represented 44% of orders or visits.
Quick service restaurants (QSRs) are not as reliant on dine-in visits as FSRs, and most, particularly chains, already had well-developed off-premises operations when the pandemic began. However, QSRs have lost dine-in visits too. Before the pandemic, dine-in visits represented 28% of total QSR visits, and in the year ending September 2021, dine-in represented 14% of traffic share. On-premises visits to QSRs are 52% below pre-pandemic levels and off-premises is 16% above pre-pandemic levels. Visits to QSRs increased by 4% overall in the year ending September 2021 compared to a year ago, declining 4% versus the same period ending September 2019.
"The real headwind for the U.S. foodservice industry remains on-premises occasions," says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. "The industry's labor challenges and consumer reluctance to dine-in may keep restaurants, particularly FSR, at limited capacity and streamlined menus for the near future."