August 18, 2022

Restaurant Operators Endure Weaker Business Conditions as Economic Pessimism Grows

New National Restaurant Association survey finds the economy is disrupting service across the industry
Washington, D.C. – Running a restaurant right now is a daily turn at Jenga®, with operators carefully pulling from the foundation of their operating plans to prop up new supports in a changing economy.

The costs of goods restaurateurs need most have continued to accelerate, and according to a new survey released today by the National Restaurant Association, 46% of operators say business conditions are worse now than they were three months ago.

This finding follows a prior survey in which 43% of operators said they think conditions will worsen in the next six months, which was the highest level of pessimism since 2008.

“Running a restaurant is a balancing act requiring adaptation and innovation, two areas where restaurateurs excel,” said Michelle Korsmo, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “And while operators are more pessimistic about the economy, they are working hard to continue to provide quality and value for customers. Serving great food, providing exceptional service, and creating a memorable experience remains the foundation of every restaurant.”

Findings from the new survey highlight how current economic conditions are disrupting the industry.

Soaring costs are limiting restaurant operations

Approximately 95% of a restaurant’s sales dollars go to food, labor, and operating costs — all of which are increasing each month. While wholesale food prices have increased 16.3% in the last 12 months, menu prices have only risen 7.6% in the same period and only 16% of operators report adding fees or surcharges to customer checks. The result: Profits are suffering. 85% of operators say their restaurant is less profitable than it was in 2019.
  • In the new survey, 88% of operators said their total food and beverage costs are higher than 2019 and across the board, many other costs are up.
    • 65% of operators say their total occupancy costs are higher than 2019
    • 80% of operators say their total utility costs are higher than 2019
    • 94% of operators say their other operating costs (supplies, G&A, etc.) are higher than 2019
“Consumers are watching prices rise faster in grocery stores than they are in restaurants and see an increased value in spending their food dollars in restaurants. However, the moderate menu price increases aren’t balancing the surging input costs and this is forcing operators to cut hours, change their menus, postpone expansions, and reduce third-party delivery,” said Korsmo.

Pandemic debt has come due, and operators can’t pay

During the first two years of the pandemic, 65% of restaurants took on new loan debt to adjust business models and continue operating. According to the new survey, the loans were a mix of forgivable government loans, government disaster loans, and private-sector loans.  
  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were the most common — taken on by 59% of operators.
  • 48% of operators took on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) issued by the U.S. Small Business Administration or lending partner.
  • 31% took on a private-sector loan from a bank, credit card or other entity.
“For many operators who received EIDL loans, the deferment period for payment will soon end and it will be an overwhelming challenge for a majority of them to begin repayment right now,” said Korsmo. “According to our latest survey, of the operators who have not begun loan repayment, only 23% say they will be able to make principal and interest payments. Another 46% expect to be able to pay the principal, but not 30 months of accrued interest.”

Restaurants are slowly adding jobs to get back to pre-pandemic employment levels

A strong majority of restaurants are still actively seeking to fill positions — even as they face building headwinds of a slowing economy. Despite adding 74,000 jobs in July, in the new survey, 65% of operators report not having enough employees to support customer demand and 84% of operators say they will likely hire additional employees during the next six months.
  • 19% of fullservice operators say their restaurant is currently more than 20% below necessary staffing levels.
  • 21% of limited-service operators say their restaurant is more than 20% below required staffing levels.
  • 81% of operators say their restaurant currently has job openings that are difficult to fill.
“Diners choose restaurants for the hospitality and experiences they get at our tables, and we hire talented people to create that atmosphere. While many industries are beginning to slow their hiring, ours continues to rebuild our workforce. The restaurant industry has good-paying jobs available at every experience level for people from every background. And these jobs provide the skills necessary to be successful in any career, and in life,” said Korsmo.

The National Restaurant Association Research Group conducted the new operator survey of 4,200 restaurant operators July 14- Aug. 5, 2022. Find a report of key findings 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.