New Black Box Intelligence data shows that full-service restaurant (FSR) tickets in the U.S. grew by nearly 20 per cent on a two-year basis as of Q2 2021.
The restaurant backdrop improved last quarter as the economy reopened and vaccines increased consumer confidence, helping FSR transactions grow compared to Q1.
This has contributed to the latest figures, which were also spurred by higher menu pricing brought in by many restaurants to offset prime cost inflation. Another factor has been fewer small orders as consumers have adjusted patterns due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a Black Box survey, over 71 per cent of operators hiked menu prices. Of that group, more than 36 per cent said they boosted prices by less than two per cent while over 20 per cent of operators raised prices by five per cent or higher.
Increased pricing isn’t driving down consumer spending, however, as restaurant spending rose 32 per cent during Q2, according to The NPD Group.
Larger ticket order transactions of $70 or more have exceeded the level two years ago. Smaller order growth continues to lag, increasing at a rate half of larger orders. Orders of less than $30 remain well below, down nearly 40 per cent as of Q2 2021. The share of these small orders, which represented over half of transactions two years ago, has fallen by 10 percentage points.
FSR large-party orders increased rapidly, up 32 per cent quarter over quarter, as consumer demand for socializing at restaurants was extremely high heading into the quarter and health risk began to fade. However, the share of small order transactions at FSRs, which skews to solo guests, remains displaced.
After being restricted for over a year due to COVID-19, consumers also felt much more confidence in returning to restaurants in Q2 2021 to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. During this period, special occasion mentions grew threefold compared to two years ago.
As for what the immediate future holds, there are some concerning signs for on-site dining. As ticket prices have increased, traffic industrywide has levelled off. Fine dining has experienced the biggest drop in sales growth through the week ending Aug. 8, according to Black Box. Meanwhile, off-premise dining saw improved growth during the week ending Aug. 8 compared to the previous week, with dine-in sales slipping.