March 02, 2021

Restaurant Industry Sales Struggle Through Winter; Help from Government Needed Now

Washington, D.C. – Today the National Restaurant Association released new data showing that the industry continues to struggle in pandemic conditions. In a letter to Congressional leadership, the Association highlighted how the results demonstrate a continued vulnerability for the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, and warrants prompt passage of the $25 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund in the American Rescue Plan.  

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund represents the culmination of a year’s worth of advocacy and development toward an industry-specific solution,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of Public Affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “Prompt passage and implementation will provide new relief opportunities for some of the nation’s hardest-hit restaurants and communities. Help for restaurants is help for employees and communities, and a signal that our country is one step closer to turning a corner.”

Highlights of the survey findings in the letter include:

  • Consumer spending in restaurants remained well below pre-pandemic levels in January. Overall, 77% of restaurant operators say their total dollar sales volume in January was lower than it was in January 2020.
  • From November 2020 to January 2021, nearly 450,000 restaurant jobs were lost, representing about 10% of the total jobs recovered during the first six months after the spring shutdowns.  Eighty percent of operators say their current staffing level is lower than what it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19.
  • Looking farther down the road, most restaurant operators do not expect a return to normal business conditions any time soon. Thirty-two percent of operators think it will be 7-12 months before business conditions return to normal for their restaurant, while 29% think it will be more than a year. An additional 10% of operators say business conditions will never return to normal for their restaurant.
  • Fourteen percent of restaurant operators say they will ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ be closed within 3 months if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.

While many other industries have moved into a recovery phase, the restaurant industry ended last year in a double-dip recession and with 2.5 million fewer jobs. Between March 2020 and January 2021, restaurant and foodservice sales were down $255 billion from expected levels.

“Demand for relief will far outpace the $25 billion in funding,” Kennedy concluded in the letter. “But this is an incredible step forward and we look forward to working with you to see this program launch successfully to rescue countless industry jobs nationwide.”

Today’s letter was the sixth update the Association has sent to Congressional leadership to apprise them of the state of the restaurant industry. Read the full letter here

A summary of the survey of 3,000 restaurant operators, conducted by the National Restaurant Association Research Group from February 2-10, is available here.

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.