Restaurant industry sales stumbled again in November as the number of COVID cases rose rapidly and colder weather hindered outdoor dining in many areas of the U.S. Same-store sales growth was -10.3%, which represented a 3.8 percentage point drop from October’s year-over-year sales growth rate, according to a new report by Black Box Intelligence. November’s -16.3% same-store traffic fell by 3.3 percentage points compared to the previous month’s performance. This was the worst month for the industry since August, based on year-over-year losses in sales and traffic.
But perhaps the most concerning insight from the latest data is that restaurant sales worsened throughout the month. Additionally, by the last week of November, same-store sales growth was the worst experienced by the industry in almost four months, signaling that we may be in the middle of a new restaurant downturn, the report finds.
But there is some good news for the industry coming from the latest data insights uncovered by Black Box Intelligence. Although sales were not good during the month, guests indicated they were increasingly satisfied with their restaurant experiences. Guests have rallied behind restaurants despite the industry’s challenges.
During November, the percentage of restaurant food online mentions and reviews classified as positive grew by 7.0 percentage points compared to the same month in 2019. Service-related mentions became more positive by 6.0 percentage points year over year. The intent-to-return metric also became more positive during November, an encouraging sign showcasing restaurants’ efforts in driving guest satisfaction in the middle of the pandemic. Intent-to-return scores are almost at the levels they were immediately before the virus outbreak back in March.
For limited-service restaurants, the menu item most frequently mentioned in positive food experiences in November was by far pizza. Second most-mentioned were burgers, followed by chicken. This coincides with sales: Those three restaurant cuisine types have been outperforming the rest throughout the pandemic, according to the financial data tracked by Black Box Intelligence.
For full-service restaurants, the menu item that got the most positive guest mentions during November was steak. This is not driven by fine dining or even upscale casual. Steak was the most mentioned menu item in casual dining when describing a positive food experience.
Other menu items most commonly mentioned with a positive sentiment during November were wings, followed by salad.