Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands Circle.

Image: Jenny Acheson

New data from the National Restaurant Association shows that spending at restaurants and other food businesses is up this year compared to 2020—but that 2021's projected sales remain well below figures from before the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the new report, restaurant sales are now expected to reach $789 billion this year, up from $659 billion last year but still below the $864.3 billion recorded in 2019. The new estimate marks an improvement over earlier projections for sales in 2021. In January, the association estimated that spending would total just $731.5 billion this year.

The association also warns that the rise in Covid-19 infections caused by the Delta variant could hurt the restaurant industry's rebound. According to a consumer survey, six in 10 people changed their plans because of the surge in Covid cases, choosing to order takeout instead of dining in, for example, or cancelling plans to eat out altogether.

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