STUDY: U.S. Restaurant Chains' Customer Transactions Begin to Recover

Customer transactions at U.S. restaurant chains in March were up +32% compared to a year ago.
Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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With the lifting of COVID-19 restaurant restrictions and more consumers vaccinated, customer transactions at major U.S. restaurant chains in March were up +32% compared to the steep declines year ago, although still down -6% compared to two years ago, March 2019, according to The NPD Group.

“There is now optimism on the part of the American consumer, which helps to unleash pent-up demand for dining out,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Although transactions are still down compared to pre-pandemic times, there is improvement and a signal that we’re headed in the right direction on the road to recovery.”

Major chain transactions at full-service restaurants were up +210% this March compared to a year ago, or down -25% compared to two years ago, according to NPD’s CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 75 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53% of the commercial restaurant traffic in the U.S.

Quick service restaurant chains, many of which had well-developed off-premises services, like drive-thru and carry-out prior to the pandemic, have fared better than full-service restaurants this past year. Customer transactions at quick service restaurant chains declined -40% by the end of March 2020 compared to same period year ago. In March 2021, QSR transactions were up +29% compared to a year ago and down -5% compared to March 2019, NPD reports.