For restaurants, COVID-19 recovery varies greatly by state

NOTE: Bloomberg Second Measure launched a new and exclusive transaction dataset in July 2022. Our data continues to be broadly representative of U.S. consumers. As a result of this panel change, however, we recommend using only the latest posts in assessing metrics, and do not support referring to historical blog posts to infer period-over-period comparisons.

After sheltering in place for weeks, American consumers are warming up to the idea of dining out, opening both their mouths and wallets to restaurant chains across the nation. As some states begin phased re-openings, spending at quick-service restaurants year-over-year has grown in many states, especially those where shelter-in-place orders have been lifted. Meanwhile, year-over-year sales at full-service restaurants are still down nationwide.

Second Measure on pandemic restaurant spending

The best and worst states for QSRs

Data from the week of May 4-10 reveals that spending has grown most in some of the states where the pandemic response has been least aggressive. In Arkansas, which did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order amid the pandemic, weekly sales at over 150 quick-service restaurants grew 11 percent year-over-year. Similarly, in Montana and Idaho—both places where stay-at-home orders were lifted at the end of April—weekly sales increased by 17 percent and 16 percent year-over-year, respectively.

Many QSRs still have drive-thrus open across the country, continuing to serve Americans even in the most locked-down states. But, in those states that remain under stay-at-home orders, a look at year-over-year change in spending reveals lagging sales. For example, sales in New York are down 36 percent year-over-year while sales in Illinois and California are down 22 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Full-service restaurants are starting to bounce back

Though year-over-year numbers paint a grim picture for full-service restaurants, our analysis of 106 restaurants shows significant week-over-week sales growth in states that have loosened restrictions. During the week of May 4-10, full-service restaurant sales grew 26 percent week-over-week. In Montana, Kansas, and Utah—where restaurants saw the most growth—week-over-week sales rose 72 percent, 63 percent, and 48 percent, respectively.

Second Measure on pandemic restaurant spending

Unsurprisingly, states that have modified, lifted, or not issued a stay-at-home order as of May 4 have observed the highest jump in week-over-week sales. For example, in Iowa, where Gov. Kim Reynolds has not declared a stay-at-home order, consumers are spending on more than just restaurants. The state—which observed a 22 percent week-over-week increase in full-service restaurant sales—is also among top states in terms of growth in spending on travel and events booking platforms and airline spending. These trends suggest that, in addition to dining out again, Iowans are feeling optimistic about planning future vacations.

Top national chains thriving in the fastest recovering states

A look at top-performing restaurants in the ten states where spending grew most shows Applebee’s smoking the competition. The week of May 4-10, week-over-week sales at Applebee’s grew 63 percent, its largest leap this year.

Second Measure on pandemic restaurant spending

Other chains that have shown strong performance include Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse, two companies with week-over-week growth exceeding 30 percent.

Third-party delivery companies helping to boost sales

A portion of this growth can be attributed to a surge in third-party meal delivery orders. In early March, Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Outback Steakhouse generated less than 10 percent of their sales through the same subset of third-party apps. This figure has more than doubled across these chains, with all four restaurants now observing roughly 20 percent of their sales through meal delivery apps.

Second Measure on pandemic restaurant spending

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