May 15, 2020

Restaurant sales fell to their lowest real level in over 35 years

With restaurant dining areas shuttered throughout most of the country, consumers had no choice but to allocate their food spending elsewhere in recent weeks. While takeout and delivery options offered many restaurants a bit of a lifeline, it by no means made up for the mandated elimination of on-premises traffic.

Eating and drinking places* registered sales of just $32.4 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in April, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This was less than half – or $33 billion – of the $65.4 billion in sales that were rung up just two months earlier.

April’s eating and drinking place sales of $32.4 billion was the smallest volume since March 2005 – in nominal terms. However, adjusting for inflation, consumer spending at eating and drinking places in April plunged to its lowest level since October 1984.

In March, consumers spent only $46 billion in restaurants – or roughly $20 billion short of what would normally be expected. In total, sales at eating and drinking place establishments were off more than $52 billion in March and April – a number that will most likely rise when the final tallies are completed.

Add in the sharp reduction in spending at non-restaurant foodservice operations in the lodging, arts/entertainment/recreation, education, healthcare and retail sectors, and the total shortfall in restaurant and foodservice sales approached $80 billion during the last two months alone.

*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the U.S. restaurant and foodservice industry, which prior the coronavirus outbreak generated approximately 75 percent of total restaurant and foodservice sales.

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