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Food Services Industry up Nearly 40% In Sales Compared to 2020

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows encouraging signs that the retail and restaurant industries are strongly and quickly recovering from 2020.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that U.S. food and retail services sales were up to $619.1 billion in March 2021, an increase of 9.8% compared to February and 36% year over year. The increase signals a recovering economy as consumer habits are rebounding from the height of the pandemic.

Total sales for food and retail January through March were up 14.3% from the same period in 2020. Retail specifically was up 26.9% from 2020, and food services were up 36% from January through March 2020.

The Census Bureau’s Advance Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services Survey provides an early estimate of monthly sales in these industries from businesses across the country. Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau sends questionnaires to a probability sample of 5,500 employer firms (restaurants, retail stores, etc.). It then estimates the performance of the retail and food markets as a whole, which includes about 3 million businesses.

Blackbox Intelligence also released its findings on restaurant industry performance, which includes data up until the week of April 4, 2021. For the third consecutive week, the industry has grown year over year for the past two years. The average check-per-guest amount is increasing rapidly as well.

Geographically, the best performing regions in the restaurant industry were the West, Southwest and Texas. California and New England were the only regions with negative sales compared to the previous week.

Finding Employees Proves Difficult for Restaurants

Blackbox also found that although restaurant industry jobs are up 62% compared to March 2020, restaurants are struggling to find enough employees. Food services and restaurants were some of the most limited businesses throughout the pandemic and some of the last to re-open. Meanwhile, other businesses that haven’t had those roadblocks have been hiring employees at a rapid pace as they ramp up operations.

Although the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped, this hiring shortage is nothing new for the restaurant industry. Pre-pandemic, only 38% of full-service restaurants and 13% of limited-service restaurants were fully staffed

As the Restaurant Industry Recovers, Customer Sentiment Drops

Although restaurants are recovering economically, customers aren’t necessarily feeling the love, at least in full-service restaurants. According to Blackbox Intelligence, guest net sentiment for service and ambiance decreased in Q1 2021 compared to Q4 2020, measured by comparing the percentage of positive reviews and negative reviews.

Service sentiment dropped due to negative reviews related to attentiveness and speed while ambiance sentiment dropped due to negative reviews about cleanliness.

The next Advance Monthly Sales for Retail and Food Services report is set to release on May 14, 2021.