Apr 21, 2021

Survey Regarding Current Impact of Pandemic on Wisconsin Restaurants

Apr2021_ImpactSurvey_WIThe National Restaurant Association conducted a survey of 2,500 restaurant operators nationwide from April 1 - 14, 2021. The results show that although total sales trended higher in recent weeks, business conditions remain far from normal for many Wisconsin restaurants.  

Wisconsin Results

Restaurant Business Conditions

  • Although total sales trended higher in recent weeks, business conditions remain far from normal for many Wisconsin restaurants. Overall, 71% of restaurant operators say their total sales volume in March 2021 was lower than it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19. Only 13% of operators reported higher-than-normal sales during the month, while 16% say their sales were close to normal in March. 
  • On average across all Wisconsin survey respondents, sales were 21% below normal levels in March 2021.
  • Wisconsin restaurant operators have a mixed outlook for sales growth during the next three months. 51% of operators expect their average sales during the next three months (April – June) will be higher than it was in March 2021. 19% think their average sales will be lower during the next 3 months, while 30% expect their sales will be about the same as it was in March.

Restaurant Jobs

  • Restaurants continued to restore some of the jobs lost during the pandemic in recent weeks, but overall staffing levels remain well below normal. 83% of Wisconsin operators say their current staffing level is lower than what it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19. 45% of operators are currently more than 20% below normal staffing levels.
  • Most restaurant operators do not expect a return to normal staffing any time soon. Among restaurant operators that are currently below normal staffing levels, 27% think it will be 7-12 months before staffing levels return to normal for their restaurant. 17% think it will take more than a year to return to normal staffing levels. 12% of operators say staffing levels will never return to normal for their restaurant.
  • 83% of operators say they currently have job openings that are difficult to fill, and most do not expect labor challenges to ease after the pandemic is over. In fact, 88% of operators say recruiting and retaining employees will likely be more difficult after the pandemic is over than it was before the pandemic started.

Costs Are Up – Profit is Down

  • Food, labor and occupancy costs are the largest line items for restaurants – combining to account for roughly 70 cents of every dollar of sales during normal times. For a majority of restaurant operators, these 3 categories are making up a larger share of sales than they did before the pandemic.
    • 68% of operators say their total food costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 7% say their food costs make up a smaller proportion of sales.
    • 54% of operators say their total labor costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 22% of operators say their labor costs declined as a percent of sales.
    • 52% of operators say their total occupancy costs are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 9% say their total occupancy costs are lower.
  • For the vast majority of restaurant operators, profitability is down from pre-pandemic levels. 79% of Wisconsin operators say their profit margin is lower than it was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 8% of operators say their profit margin is higher.

Source: the National Restaurant Association provided the results above for Wisconsin restaurants who completed their national survey of restaurant operators conducted April 1-14, 2021.

National Results

Restaurant Business Conditions 

  • Although total sales trended higher in recent weeks, business conditions remain far from normal for most restaurants. Overall, 65% of restaurant operators say their total sales volume in March 2021 was lower than it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19. Only 19% of operators reported higher-than-normal sales during the month, while 16% say their sales were close to normal in March. 
  • On average across all survey respondents, sales were 19% below normal levels in March 2021. 
  • Restaurant operators have a mixed outlook for sales growth during the next three months. 44% of operators expect their average sales during the next three months (April – June) will be higher than it was in March 2021. 21% think their average sales will be lower during the next 3 months, while 35% expect their sales will be about the same as it was in March. 

Restaurant Jobs 

  • Restaurants continued to restore some of the jobs lost during the pandemic, but overall staffing levels remain well below normal. 84% of operators say their current staffing level is lower than what it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19. 47% of operators are currently more than 20% below normal staffing levels. 
  • Most restaurant operators do not expect a return to normal staffing any time soon. Among restaurant operators that are currently below normal staffing levels, 28% think it will be 7-12 months before staffing levels return to normal for their restaurant. 20% think it will take more than a year to return to normal staffing levels. 10% of operators say staffing levels will never return to normal for their restaurant. 
  • 82% of operators say they currently have job openings that are difficult to fill, and most do not expect labor challenges to ease after the pandemic is over. In fact, 90% of operators say recruiting and retaining employees will likely be more difficult after the pandemic is over than it was before the pandemic started. 

Costs Are Up – Profit is Down 

  • Food, labor and occupancy costs are the largest line items for restaurants – combining to account for roughly 70 cents of every dollar of sales during normal times. For a majority of restaurant operators, these 3 categories are making up a larger share of sales than they did before the pandemic. 

➢ 67% of operators say their total food costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 8% say their food costs make up a smaller proportion of sales. 

➢ 58% of operators say their total labor costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 23% of operators say their labor costs declined as a percent of sales. 

➢ 52% of operators say their total occupancy costs are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 10% say their total occupancy costs are lower. 

  • For the vast majority of restaurant operators, profitability is down from pre-pandemic levels. 76% of operators say their profit margin is lower than it was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 9% of operators say their profit margin is higher. 

Source: National Restaurant Association, national survey of 2,500 restaurant operators conducted April 1-14, 2021 

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association is one of the largest trade associations in the state with over 7,000 member locations throughout Wisconsin.  The mission of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is dedicated to the success of the Foodservice and Hospitality Industry.  The Association advocates on behalf of the restaurant industry, provides a voice for the restaurant industry to consumers and the media and provides access to information and services to help members better run their businesses.  WRA represents the entire foodservice industry which includes over 16,000 licensed food service establishments.

WRA membership includes a wide range of foodservice businesses representing virtually every size and style of restaurant in the state. Members include fine dining establishments, mom-and-pop supper clubs, small cafes, quick service restaurants, corporate chain restaurants, institutional food service operations, catering businesses and hotel and motel foodservice among others. 

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