Breakfast traffic driving restaurant recovery

The morning meal is the prime driver in helping the U.S. restaurant industry recover from pandemic-related losses.

That’s a prime finding from Circana research that revealed restaurant traffic was up by 2% in February compared to a year ago. Circana was formerly IRI and The NPD Group.

Visits to QSRs, representing 82% of total restaurant industry visits, grew by 3% in the month over a year ago, according to a press release on the findings. Full service visit growth was held back by a 13% decline in dinner traffic, the segment’s busiest meal daypart, but the segment increased visits at morning meal and lunch. Visits to full service restaurants declined by 2% in February compared to a year ago.

Morning meal restaurant visits grew by 10% in February compared to a year ago and are up 2% from three years ago. Whereas total restaurant lunch visits were down 1% in February compared to a year ago and dinner traffic was down 3%.

“We’re seeing strong customer traffic at breakfast and morning snack, which means consumers are looking for convenience and portable meals and snacks,” David Portalatin, Circana food industry advisor, said in the release. “On the other hand, dinner and lunch visit growth has been slower due to home-centric behaviors being stickier at these dayparts. At lunch, consumers have other choices, including bringing items from home or going to a workplace cafeteria, offering subsidized pricing or no-cost options. Additionally, the higher average check for lunch and dinner may make them less appealing to some consumers.”

In February, off-premises traffic represented 72% of the total restaurant traffic. Although on-premises visits have increased since the height of the pandemic, dine-in traffic is down double-digits from three years ago.

“The morning meal growth is a clear sign of what consumers are looking for when using foodservice,” Portalatin said in the release. “Moving forward, enticing consumers with convenience, whether portability, ordering ease or speed, appears to be where the demand currently is in the foodservice industry.”

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