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Restaurant Customer Transactions Down Sharply Last Week In March

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The majority of U.S. restaurants are now impacted by mandated dine-in closures, reports New York-based data analytics firm The NPD Group. Restaurant customer transactions dropped by 42 percent in the week ending March 29 compared to same week year ago, according to NPD’s Crest Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 70 quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains.

While steep transaction declines are being seen industry-wide, some restaurant models are better suited than others to retain existing off-premise business, like drive-thru, carry-out, and delivery. Quick service restaurants, which historically have more off-premise business, realized transaction declines of 40 percent in the week ending March 29 compared to same period year ago, whereas full service restaurants, which aren’t typically set up for off-premise dining, declined 79 percent.

About 97 percent of U.S. restaurants are now under some level of restrictions, with most prohibiting dine-in service, according to NPD’s restaurant census, ReCount. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, on-premise dining represented 52 percent of restaurant industry dollars, and off-premise, like carry out, drive thru, and delivery, represented 48 percent of dollars. Carry-out represented the largest dollar share at 53 percent of off-premise modes, drive-thru percent, and delivery 9 percent of dollars. As of year ending February 2020, digital orders represented 13 percent of all off-premise dollars. 

“The transaction declines partially reflect the struggle of on-premise restaurants to pivot to off-premise models,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Many restaurants that are attempting to make the move are doing so with limited menu offerings and without the benefit of drive-thru lanes. Anecdotally, some operators are giving up the cause and closing altogether.” 

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