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Consumer spending, restaurant visits rose in 2021

Consumer spending, restaurant visits rose in 2021iStock Photo

Consumer spending at restaurants grew by 16% in 2021 compared to a year ago when spending declined by 12% and was 2% above the pre-pandemic year ending December 2019.

Restaurant online and physical visits increased by 9% last year compared to the 12% decline in 2020. Traffic at restaurants is still down 4% compared to 2019, according to a press release from The NPD Group.

Restaurant chains, which hold the largest traffic share at 77%, grew online and physical visits by 7% in 2021, a 2% decline from 2019. Independent restaurants and smaller chains, making up the remainder of visit share, increased online and physical traffic by 12% and 13%, respectively, in 2021 over a year ago. Visits to both independents and smaller chains are down 9% from 2019.

QSR online and physical visits, representing 82% of all restaurant orders in 2021, increased by 7% in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, and traffic was down 1% compared to 2019. Full-service restaurant visits, representing 18% of restaurant industry orders, grew by 18% last year, over a 29% decline in 2020 and 16% below traffic in 2019.

Delivery, which grew by triple digits over the past two years, increased visits by 17% in 2021 over an 89% gain in the 2020 12-month period.

Despite its growth during the pandemic, delivery represents the smallest traffic share of off-premises modes at 11%. Drive-thru, which increased visits by 4% year-over-year, holds the largest share at 52%. Carry-out represented 37% of orders, which grew by 2% in the year ending December 2021 over last year. Digital orders placed through an app or website increased by 13% last year compared to a 100% increase in the year ending December 2020, and non-digital orders grew by 8% in 2021 over a 19% decline in 2020.

"Restaurant recovery continues on a year-over-year basis, especially compared to last year," David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor, said in the release. "The industry's recovery isn't going to be a straight line moving upward based on the nearly two years of the pandemic so far; it's going to be bumpy. That said, restaurant traffic should recover 98% of 2019 visits by the end of 2022."

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