May 15, 2019

Consumer pent-up demand for restaurants remains elevated

The trend line of restaurant sales was positive during the first four months of 2019, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Eating and drinking place sales totaled $61.5 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in April, which represented the fourth consecutive monthly gain after a sluggish second half of 2018.

To be sure, there appears to be more room for growth in the months ahead, according to a national survey conducted May 9-12 by ORC International for the National Restaurant Association. When asked about their current restaurant usage, a significant proportion of the American public say they would like to be patronizing restaurants more often. Forty-two percent of all adults say they are not eating on the premises of restaurants as frequently as they would like, while 48 percent say they are not purchasing takeout or delivery as often as they would like.

Putting these results in a historical context, this measure of pent-up demand remains well above pre-recession levels. On a consistent basis during the stronger restaurant business environment of the mid-2000s, typically only one-quarter of adults said they were not patronizing restaurants as frequently as they would like.

Not surprisingly, pent-up demand is higher among lower-income households, as nearly six in 10 consumers in households with income below $50,000 say they would like to be eating at restaurants more frequently. In contrast, only 16 percent adults living in households with income above $100,000 say they are not visiting restaurants as often as they would like.

Still, as households with income above $100,000 are responsible for four in 10 dollars spent in restaurants, any degree of unfulfilled demand is an encouraging sign for the industry in the months ahead.

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