Restaurants Back from the Brink with Soaring Sales

people sitting in front of table talking and eating

U.S. restaurant sales reached $67.3 billion in May, representing the third month in a row that sales reached an all-time high, according to Census Bureau statistics.

The growth is set to accelerate, according to OpenTable data, which shows reservations exceeded pre-crisis levels in May for the first time, reported MarketWatch (June 15).

Back in January 2020, sales had peaked at $66.3 billion, then briefly slumped 55% to under $30 billion when most of the country was in lockdown. Now, restaurant reservations have exceeded pre-crisis levels for the first time as of May, according to research from OpenTable.


Americans are ready to spend the cash they’ve saved up during the pandemic. Surveys show more consumers plan to dine out in the coming months as life returns to normal.

Spending for both dining out and travel are nearing pre-pandemic levels, Steve Squeri, American Express CEO, told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on “Mad Money.” He noted that younger patrons are driving a boost in restaurant spending, reported Insider (June 15).

“The people that are really spending at restaurants [are] millennials [at] 130% in April of what they spent back in 2019,” Squeri said. “We believe that that’s going to continue to move forward.”

Sales at restaurants and bars are also continuing to benefit from the warmer weather and looser business restrictions, lead U.S. economist Lydia Boussour of Oxford Economics told MarketWatch.


Though restaurant sales are up overall, geography matters when it comes to pandemic recovery for U.S. chains, according to NPD Group.

A mix of factors, like pandemic-related restaurant restrictions, the closing or opening of units,  chain performance, or  weather can impact restaurant chain customer transactions in a specific market area.

For example, restaurant chain customer transaction declines in the Dallas-Fort Worth market improved from double-digit declines last year to  -4% in May 2021 compared to May 2019, a pre-pandemic basis of comparison. In addition to Texas lifting COVID restaurant restrictions in March, the market’s May customer transactions reflect new restaurant units opening and a +10% increase in fast casual chain transactions compared to a year ago, according to NPD’s CREST Performance Alerts.

Other top market areas showing improvements in restaurant chain customer transaction declines in May are Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Orlando, Florida. All these markets are in areas where restaurant restrictions had been eased or lifted as of May, and fast casual chain customer transactions grew.