This article was written by Kristi Turner, CMO of Compeat
Good News: Restaurant Sales have been Increasing Every Week since our March 28th Rock Bottom Week.
As we continue to monitor our Compeat customer base to identify negative and positive trends of restaurant sales, we are starting to see some good news. As we reported April 23rd in our blog “Have Restaurants’ Same Store Sales Hit Rock Bottom?”, we saw our customer base hit rock bottom the week of Apr 3rd at an -82% YoY (year over year) decline in restaurant sales when we look at both open and closed locations. However, for our restaurant locations that chose to stay open, it appears the rock bottom hit was week of Mar 22nd with a -69% YoY decline in restaurant sales. We chose the week of Mar 28th as our blended rock bottom week.
What has happened since our rock bottom week? Here’s the good news:
As we look at restaurant sales growth since the week of Mar 28th, we see a constant increase every week for both reopened states as well as closed states. For restaurant sales within states who have not reopened, we have seen a 40% increase in sales between Mar 28th and May 9th. For restaurant sales in reopened states, we have seen a 70% increase between Mar 28th and May 9th.
Two thoughts come to mind. First, one can assume that restaurant operators are figuring out the take out only model and getting better at fine tuning their menus and marketing to increase their sales. Secondly, consumer confidence level may be increasing and there may be a greater demand week over week as consumers desire for eating out increases after being in a shelter in place mandate for two plus months.
As states slowly reopen one by one, it is important to acknowledge this is simply the first step of recovery. A state reopening is giving restaurants a choice to reopen their in-dining experience with the common limitation across the country of 25% capacity maximum. The fact that a state is reopened does not mean all restaurants are reopening. Many restaurants in reopen states are choosing not to open for in-dining experience and continuing a takeout only model for now.
As an industry, we have to acknowledge two critical qualitative factors that must happen after a state declares they are “reopen” that greatly impact restaurant sales. The first is the restaurant operator’s confidence to reopen for the safety of their employees and their customers. The second is the consumer confidence in each state that drives consumers to feel comfortable enough to increase their takeout purchases or to participate in an in-dining experience.
To see if there is any correlation, we compared the restaurant sales increase by state from our low point the week of Mar 28th to COVID-19 cases as a percent of the state population. You can see dramatic differences from state to state where some states seem to have a correlation and others do not.
Looking at the heaviest hit state, New York, which has 1.73% of the population as reported COVID-19 cases, we see their restaurant sales increasing at 31% below the national average of 55% across the entire Compeat customer base. Looking at Montana and Alaska, two states with some of the highest increases in restaurant sales since our rock bottom at 147% and 124% respectively, each have some of the lowest reported COVID-19 cases at .04% and .05%. One could assume the “fear” is less than the higher impacted states and restaurant and consumer confidence level is higher.
However, there are outliers that don’t follow the same logic. Looking at Nebraska that is among the top three states in terms of increase in restaurant sales at 143% yet has a substantial higher COVID-19 reported case of .45% of population compared to Montana and Alaska. Then you have neighboring states, South Carolina and North Carolina who share a .15% reported COVID-19 cases, yet South Carolina shows an explosive 122% increase in restaurant sales while North Carolina has only a 39% increase in restaurant sales. The obvious assumption for these two states’ variances is one state, South Carolina has officially reopened and other state, North Carolina is considered a “closed” state as of May 15th date of this write up.
As you look deeper at the top and bottom states in the graphs above, you see outliers that illustrate reopen or closed is not the only driving force. Look at Wisconsin a currently “closed” state experiencing 98% increase in sales since our rock bottom week. Then there is Missouri who is considered open that has only seen a 28% increase in sales.
When we look at all 52 states in order of reopen dates found in the graph at the end of this article, we see many more disparities and confirmation that “reopen” governed states is not necessarily the driving factor for increasing restaurant sales. There have to be many other factors impacting every state’s restaurant sales growth and timing of growth in addition to state open status and level of COVID cases in each state.
So, what is driving the wild swings in sales recovery state by state? A few possible factors come to mind:
- Date of governor’s official reopening announcement
- Tonality of the local governor’s attitude toward COVID-19
- Level of fear-based news tonality of the local media toward COVID-19
- City by City and county by county ordinances that may counter state wide ordinances
- Cultural attitudes of each state
- Density of population- heavily rural states versus metro states
- Local weather and accessibility to outdoor seating versus in-dining seating
All of these factors impact the level of restaurant operators and consumer confidence levels toward restaurant openings and purchases. It is essential that we recognize these qualitative influencers state by state as we try to predict the timing of recovery going forward.
As Kat Cole, COO and President North America at Focus Brands, so eloquently stated in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, “the economy is not a door, and employing people is not a light switch. They are driven by consumer confidence related to the sector.”
As an industry, we have to put the safety measures in place in our restaurant operations to show our employees and our customers our restaurants are safe. We would even argue the more visual the safety measures can be to customers, the more confidence the consumers will have for dining in our restaurants.
For today, after two months of incredibly bad news, let’s celebrate the week over week increase in restaurant sales since our low point. We will keep monitoring the data and providing weekly updates as only time will tell us in these unprecedented times that we are all experience together.
Disclaimer: Data is derived from all Compeat customers across the United States. Compeat has customers across different types of restaurants from fine dining to fast casual to quick service. However, we are heavily weighted toward fast casual concepts. There are certain states that have less restaurant locations than others. As such, data shared above should be taken with the above considerations.