The restaurant industry and its employees have been devastated by the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In communities large and small, restaurants are shuttered and employees are out of work. To assess the economic impact of the coronavirus to date, the National Restaurant Association conducted a survey of more than 6,500 restaurant operators* nationwide April 10-16.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of restaurant operators reported plunging sales in recent weeks. Looking specifically at the period between April 1 and April 10, 97 percent of restaurant operators say their total dollar sales volume was lower than it was during the same period in 2019. Overall, sales were down 78 percent on average.

Based on these results, the National Restaurant Association estimates that the restaurant and foodservice industry will lose more than $50 billion in sales in April, if the current trends continue through the end of the month. 

Sales losses were widespread across segments during the first 10 days of April. Ninety-eight percent of operators in each of the three tableservice segments reported lower sales during the period between April 1 and April 10. On average, sales were down more than 80 percent in each segment.

While nearly every limited-service operator also reported lower sales, the losses were somewhat less severe. This is because most of these operations were already well-equipped to handle off-premises traffic, which is the only option available throughout most of the country where mandated dining area closures have been implemented.

Quickservice operators reported an average sales decline of 57 percent during the first 10 days of April. Fast casual sales were down 64 percent on average, while operators in the coffee and snack segment reported an average sales decline of 73 percent.

As a result of the dramatic sales losses in recent weeks, restaurant operators across the country were forced to cut staffing levels. Eighty-eight percent of restaurant operators say they laid off or furloughed employees since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March. On average, these operators cut 83 percent of their restaurant’s total staff. Forty-one percent of these operators laid off or furloughed 100 percent of their staff.

Based on these results, the National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 8 million restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March. This represents more than two-thirds of the 12 million employees that were working at the nation’s eating and drinking places* in February.

Job losses were most pronounced in the tableservice segment. More than nine in 10 operators in each of the three tableservice segments say they laid off or furloughed employees. In the fine dining segment, the 96 percent of operators who cut jobs reduced their staffing levels by an average of 89 percent.

While still significant, layoffs were somewhat less common in the limited-service segment in recent weeks. Fifty-eight percent of quickservice operators say they laid off or furloughed employees – with an average staffing reduction of 67 percent. Three in four operators in the fast casual and coffee-and-snack segments cut staffing levels in recent weeks. 

*This survey was conducted among owners/operators of eating and drinking places, which employ 12 million out of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.6 million. 

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.