May 14, 2021

National Restaurant Association Unveils Findings from Latest COVID-19 Operator Survey

Washington, D.C. (May 14, 2021) – Today, the National Restaurant Association released the findings of its most recent COVID-19 operator survey, which identifies the latest trends and key economic indicators influencing the speed of the restaurant industry’s recovery. In its seventh iteration, the survey polled 2,500 restaurant operators from April 1 to April 14, 2021. 

Key findings from the survey include:

  • About 90,000 eating and drinking place establishments remain completely closed either permanently or long-term, which reflects the return to operations for many temporarily closed restaurants.
  • Despite the recent gains, overall staffing levels remain well below the industry standard with 84% of operators saying their current staffing level is lower than it was in the absence of COVID-19.
  • For the vast majority of restaurant operators, profitability is down from pre-pandemic levels and costs are up. Additionally, 65% of restaurant operators say their total sales volume in March 2021 was lower than it was in the absence of COVID-19.
  • 44% of operators expect their average sales April – June will be higher than in March 2021.
  • 91% of limited-service operators and 90% of fullservice operators say they will continue offering customers expanded outdoor seating if their jurisdiction continues to allow it after the coronavirus crisis is over.

“We continue to see positive growth in sales as consumer confidence grows,” said Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President, Research & Knowledge Group at the National Restaurant Association. “However, it is important to note that 90% of operators say recruiting and retaining employees will likely be more difficult after the pandemic is over than it was before it began. This is a large contributor to why more than half of fullservice operators and 42% of limited-service operators polled are unable to open at the maximum-allowed capacity and grow back their business—they do not have enough employees to staff the restaurant.”

According to the National Restaurant Association’s monthly sales and jobs reports analysis more than a year into the pandemic, restaurant and foodservice sales are currently down $290 billion from expected pre-pandemic levels, and restaurants are still down 1.7 million jobs.

About the National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises more than 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15.5 million employees. Together with 52 State Associations, we are a network of professional organizations dedicated to serving every restaurant through advocacy, education, and food safety. We sponsor the industry's largest trade show (National Restaurant Association Show); leading food safety training and certification program (ServSafe); unique career-building high school program (the NRAEF's ProStart). For more information, visit and find @WeRRestaurants on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.