August restaurant traffic shows improvement, but trails 2019: NPD

Off-premises orders now account for nearly three-fourths of restaurants visits

In August, restaurants online and physical visits continue to make a comeback, increasing 5% from last year, compared to a 10% decline reported last August from the prior year. This, despite the delta variant and bad weather. Data from The NPD Group, a Chicago-based research firm, affirms the ongoing recovery, but also that it falls short of pre-pandemic levels. For example, August traffic was still down 5% from August 2019.

As a positive sign, larger average checks propelled the dollars to increase by 13% from last year and 3% from the same month in 2019 per NPD’s daily tracking of the industry.

David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of “Eating Patterns in America,” commented, “Overall, the state of the U.S. restaurant industry today reflects the steady-state of the home-centric lifestyle that has us eating more meals at home. This behavior pre-dates the pandemic and will continue into the foreseeable future. To meet the needs of today’s restaurant consumers, restaurant operators need to think about getting meals and snacks into the home.”

Limited-service restaurant visits, which represent the majority of US restaurant traffic, were down 3% versus August of 2019, but up 2% versus one year ago. Full-service restaurant visits dropped by 9% in August versus two years ago (pre-pandemic), but increased 20% versus last year, when visits were down 25%

Restaurant traffic has improved overall, notes NPD. But, while on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels, off-premises is taking a larger share of the business and doing well. Dine-in visits were down 34% in August compared to 2019. Off-premises orders, which became a go-to channel during the pandemic, represented the majority of all restaurants visits at 73% during August.

Delivery continues to surge, increasing by 128% in August compared to 2019, and now represents 10% of off-premises visits.


Carry-out visits, which accounted for 49% share of off-premises traffic, increased by 6% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Drive-thru visits were up 11% in August compared to August 2019 and represented 41% of off-premises visits during the month. Digital ordering has grown by triple-digits since the pandemic began, reports NPD, but non-digital orders are still king: They represented 85% of all restaurant orders in August.

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