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February guest sentiment shows positive trends for the restaurant industry: Black Box

Sales trends continue to show positive signs, despite inclement weather

The restaurant industry saw food sentiment and service sentiment show positive trends, according to data-analytics firm Black Box Intelligence. Food sentiment increased 7%, while service rose 4.4%. Against the backdrop of industry comp sales dropping 12.6% from last year and comp traffic decreasing 19.2%. Intent to return was down 1.6%.

On a regional basis, severe winter months played a significant role. For example, Black Box notes that Texas restaurant sales were down more than 40% during the third week in February. In the Southwest Region, restaurant sales were down more than 30% in the same week.

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More than half of food-centered reviews were positive in February, which is a positive development. January saw a slight decrease in service-centered reviews but delivered a course correction in February, leading to the 4.4% increase.

A Black Box trend analysis also shows that intent to return has been gradually improving, despite the slight year-over-year decrease in February.

Customers’ excitement about certain foods vary between quick service and full service. Positive reviews for pizza, chicken & chicken sandwiches and french fries are prominent. In the casual-dining segment, steak, salad and pizza are top foods that generate satisfaction.

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Black Box notes, “Guest affinity toward ‘chicken’ and the popularity of ‘chicken sandwiches’ came through loud and clear in online guest sentiment. These menu items were the second most mentioned when guests rated positive food experiences at quick service restaurants in the first two months of the year.”

For casual dining, two positive trends are emerging: sales are on the rise and consumers are more optimistic about their outlook. This trend has “shrimp” appearing as the third-most mentioned item. Steak and salads took the top spots, per Black Box. Salads tend to be more popular in the early months of the year with start-of-year resolutions faring prominently for health-conscious consumers.

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