The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sparked an unprecedented shift in the way U.S. consumers spent money on food, particularly at restaurants and other food-away-from-home (FAFH) establishments. To document changes in consumer FAFH spending, researchers from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) recently worked with proprietary data from a market research organization that were collected before and throughout the pandemic.
Specifically, ERS researchers used The NPD Group’s Consumer Reported Eating Share Trends (CREST), which provide national estimates of dollars spent at restaurants and other FAFH retailers. In an online survey, consumers reported how much they spent at various outlets and the total spent (including tax but excluding tips) on meals, snacks, or beverages. NPD used these individual-level surveys to generate nationally representative projections of consumer expenditures on a rolling 3-month basis to better understand overall trends. Using a rolling 3-month basis also means the timing of spending patterns lags what might have been expected in a given month.
ERS researchers found that while restaurant spending dropped after the onset of the pandemic for all FAFH establishments, the reduction in sales was more pronounced for full-service restaurants than for quick-service restaurants. Quick-service establishments typically specialize in a particular type of food such as hamburgers, pizza, or chicken. At quick-service restaurants, customers usually order and pay at a counter or drive-thru before eating their food. Full-service restaurants typically offer table service and include three categories of establishments: fine dining, casual dining, and midscale. These categories vary according to how much an average meal costs, the size and scope of bar selections, and whether reservations are accepted.
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