Customer transactions at major U.S. restaurant chains declined by 21% in the week ending May 17 compared with the same period last year, a slight gain from the previous week’s 23% decline and the fifth consecutive week of improvement, reports The NPD Group. Major quick-service chain restaurants, which represent most restaurant transactions, reported transaction declines of 20% for the week ending May 17 when compared with the same week in 2019. However, this was an improvement over the 21% decline reported for the week ending May 10, according to NPD’s CREST Performance Alerts.

Chain restaurant transactions were bolstered due to some states lifting on-premise dining restrictions. These openings are more critical for full-service restaurants, which are more dependent on diners eating on-premise. Major full-service chain restaurant transaction declines improved by 9 points in the week ending May 17, down 49% compared with a year ago. This is an improvement over the 58% decline in full-service chain restaurant transactions experienced the week ending May 10.

The effect of restaurant openings is readily apparent when comparing states with and without restrictions. Full-service restaurants in states where on-premise dining was permitted to reopen as of May 10 improved 13 percentage points in the week ending May 17, down 33% versus a year ago. Full-service restaurants in open states have a 22 percentage point performance advantage over the remainder of the country.

“The reopening of restaurant dine-in services across the country will certainly continue to help drive improvements, but it’s important to keep in mind that restaurant on-premise dining operations are not serving to full capacity because of safety protocols,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “Equally important to the industry’s recovery is the consumer’s comfort level with dining in at a restaurant now.”

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