CHICAGO — The U.S. restaurant industry continued to recover from COVID-19 pandemic-related losses in February, with traffic up by 2 percent year over year, reported Circana.
Visits to quick-service restaurants, representing 82 percent of total restaurant industry visits, grew by 3 percent during the month of February vs. the year-ago period. Alternatively, full-service visit growth was held back by a 13 percent decline in dinner traffic, the segment's busiest meal daypart. However, the segment increased visits at morning meal and lunch. Overall, visits to full-service restaurants declined by 2 percent in February compared to one year ago.
Total restaurant traffic at the morning meal, breakfast and a.m. snack has fully recovered from pandemic losses, Circana reported. Morning meal restaurant visits grew by 10 percent in February year over year and are up 2 percent from three years ago. Whereas total restaurant lunch visits were down 1 percent in February vs. one year ago, and dinner traffic was down 3 percent.
"We're seeing strong customer traffic at breakfast and morning snack, which means consumers are looking for convenience and portable meals and snacks," said David Portalatin, Circana food industry advisor. "On the other hand, dinner and lunch visit growth has been slower due to home-centric behaviors being stickier at these dayparts. At lunch, consumers have other choices, including bringing items from home or going to a workplace cafeteria, offering subsidized pricing or no-cost options. Additionally, the higher average check for lunch and dinner may make them less appealing to some consumers."
Just like convenience is a factor in breakfast and morning snack growth, it is also a factor in off-premise ordering like drive-thru, carry-out and delivery. In February, off-premises traffic represented 72 percent of the total restaurant traffic. Although on-premises visits have increased since the height of the pandemic, dine-in traffic is down double-digits from three years ago.
"The morning meal growth is a clear sign of what consumers are looking for when using foodservice," Portalatin added. "Moving forward, enticing consumers with convenience, whether portability, ordering ease or speed, appears to be where the demand currently is in the foodservice industry."
Chicago-based Circana, previously The NPD Group and IRI, serves as an advisor on the complexity of consumer behavior. Through advanced analytics, cross-industry data and subject matter expertise, Circana provides insights and research that helps clients unlock business growth.