January was encouraging for the restaurant industry. With same-store sales growth of -4.9% and traffic growth of -12.2%, it was the best performance for restaurants since the beginning of the pandemic almost a year ago. This is good news for an industry that struggled the last two months of 2020, as sales and traffic growth worsened compared to the COVID-era peak achieved in October. Likely contributing to some of the consumer pent up demand for restaurant spending was a combination stimulus check distribution, a sense of optimism from turning the page on 2020 and the increased prospect of additional government aid soon.
The fourth quarter was not good for restaurant sales; each month posted worse same-store sales growth than the previous month. By December, same-store sales growth fell to -13.3% year-over-year, the worst month for the industry since July. Same-store traffic growth for the month was -18.6%, also the worst performance in the last five months.
The restaurant industry’s performance continues improving with October posting the best same-store sales growth results since the beginning of the pandemic. But there are some reasons for concern that the industry’s recovery has stalled in recent weeks and may be a sign of things to come. October’s same-store sales growth represented only a small improvement from the -8.1% growth reported for September.
For an industry that was among the hardest hit by the pandemic, September brought some welcome good news. The sales recovery continued into September, which at -8.1% same-store sales growth, became the best performing month since February (before the pandemic hit restaurant sales at a national scale).