By the numbers

Restaurant Sales Dropped 24 Percent Last Year

And while spending is expected to rise again in 2021, it is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels.

By Cooper Levey-Baker January 27, 2021

Total spending at restaurants, bars and other food service businesses declined by nearly a quarter between 2019 and 2020, and while sales are expected to rise again in 2021, they are not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. That's according to a new report issued by the National Restaurant Association that documents the "staggering" toll that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on the restaurant industry.

Restaurant spending totaled $659 billion last year, $205.3 billion less than the $864.3 billion recored in 2019, according to the association, which is predicting that sales will rebound to $731.5 billion this year. The organization's findings are based on a survey of 1,000 adults and 6,000 restaurant owners and operators.

The association estimates that more than 110,000 restaurants nationwide have closed either temporarily or for good, many of them longtime businesses. Restaurants that closed for good had been open for an average of 16 years, according to the report.

The number of people employed in restaurants and bars dropped from 12.2 million in January 2020 to just 6.2 million in April before beginning to recover. However, the number of workers in the industry declined again between November and December.

Looking forward, the association finds that while consumers have increasingly turned to takeout, curbside pickup and delivery options, there is pent-up demand for eating at restaurants. More than two-thirds of survey respondents said they are not eating at restaurants as much as they would like.

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