Restaurant sales rose in August

After the initial sales bounce that followed the government-mandated lockdowns during the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, consumer spending in restaurants slowed during the peak summer months. Eating and drinking places* posted sales of $54.6 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in August, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the sales gains in July (4.1%) and August (4.7%) continued to point the trendline in a positive direction, they were well below the robust growth registered in May (31.3%) and June (27.2%). As a result, total sales in August were still nearly $11 billion lower than the pre-coronavirus levels posted in January and February.

While the seasonally-adjusted figures offer a directional look at spending trends from month to month, they don’t provide a complete picture of the sales losses that have been experienced by restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. For this, the Census Bureau’s unadjusted data set is a better measure, because it represents the actual dollars coming in the door. 

In total between March and August, eating and drinking place sales levels were down more than $148 billion from expected levels, based on the unadjusted data. 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 likely surpassed $185 billion during the last six months. 

*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.

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