Recovery in US restaurant industry hinges on daypart strength: NPD

While restaurant business is improving across the United States, at one point down 35% in visits to prior year during the pandemic, there is still a way to go to reach pre-pandemic levels, notes research firm The NPD Group. On a two-year basis, May 2021 visits were down 6% to 2019, but up 23% from last May and better than the performance in May 2020, when total restaurant visits were down 23% compared to prior year.

Recovery of restaurant business will depend on the “rhythms of home, school, and work-life” impacting individual daypart periods—morning meal, lunch, dinner, and P.M. Snacks, says NPD.

During the morning daypart, which includes breakfast and A.M. snacks, visits were down 5% this May compared to last year’s May. Comparing it to a pre-pandemic period, May 2021 visits were down 11% to May 2019.

Lunch traffic was down 4% this May compared to the prior year and down 10% compared to May 2019. NPD notes that lunch business will recover depending on the momentum of people returning to offices and workplaces, and also shopping visits.

Dinner daypart visits were down 5% in May 2021 from the prior period and down 12% from two years ago. According to the Chicago-based research firm, restaurants will be aided in the recovery by a return to total capacity, increasing consumer comfort with dining in, and a ramp-up of business and recreational travel.

NPD notes, “P.M. Snack, which has benefited from more flexible schedules blurring the dayparts and customers’ hesitancy to dine in, is the only daypart that has increased visits over the past year.” P.M. Snack visits were up this May 8% compared to prior year and up 3% compared to May 2019. To further grow this daypart, NPD suggests operators innovate their food and beverage offerings.


“Across dayparts, the motivations for visiting restaurants are evolving, necessitating a refocus on how restaurant operators target consumers,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of “Eating Patterns in America.” “Quality, value, and innovation will always be relevant to the consumer, but we also need to recognize that in many ways the world has fundamentally changed.”

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