Make that Reservation, Restaurants Are Back!

After an extremely tough year for the restaurant industry amid the pandemic, the road to recovery has been quicker than expected as life normalizes and cities and counties across the country are reopening. Sure, in places across the country full capacity at restaurants is just beginning (while others are already operating business as usual) and face-coverings among employees is a must-wear accessory at all times and for patrons when entering and existing establishments, depending on where you are located. But people are ready to mingle and go out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

According to data gathered by TableSafe, a leading innovator of pay-at-the-table technology designed for the hospitality industry, dollars spent in restaurants during the first quarter of 2021 rose to their highest level since the first quarter of 2020. Transaction revenue also increased 15% in Q1 over Q4 of 2020.

“Our data offers clear indication that full-service restaurants are recovering more quickly and substantially than many in the industry were expecting,” said Gordon Gardiner, CEO of TableSafe. “Even though some of the most populous states only allowed restaurants to re-open capacity in March, there’s been a healthy rebound in transaction revenue and volumes…This is very encouraging for the restaurant industry and we expect more progress as the full effect of restaurant re-opening comes into play in Q2.”

Recent data from Black Box Intelligence also underscores the continued comeback of the restaurant sector. The restaurant information firm said that same-store sales accelerated the last week in May and have increased for 11 straight weeks. “Sales from the week ended May 30 were the best results for the index in six weeks, suggesting that the industry’s post-pandemic sales boom is not yet subsiding.”

COVID-19 Vaccine, Stimulus Funds Helped Businesses to Re-Open

The strong industry growth has been in part due to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and the liberation consumers are feeling to patronize restaurants and bars. The Biden administration has also ushered through two additional rounds of COVID-19 relief money, the most recent of which saw unemployment subsidies extended and qualified households receiving checks of $1,400. This has lifted consumer confidence and spending.

Recovery Is Not a Piece of Cake

While patrons are returning to indoor dining and continuing to order take-out, the restaurant industry is struggling to get back cooking and wait staff. For months now, according to Eatery, restaurants are sounding the alarm over a labor shortage that could impede full recovery. Some blame the increased unemployment benefits and lingering health concerns that are keeping people at home while many workers have said better wages are needed to don that apron or work as a line cook. Add to this the fact that restaurants are all competing at the same time for a smaller pool of workers as many either moved, went back to school, have childcare responsibilities, or decided to leave the industry for another field.

Many restaurants in response to the labor shortage are raising wages and offering incentives and referral bonuses to get workers in their kitchens and in the front of the house. The pandemic has illustrated the extent of the industry’s resilience and its ability to pivot during one of the most challenging periods we’ve collectively experienced. We’re confident it will continue to pivot and innovate as we move ahead.