Restaurant Sales Expected to Rise 10.2%

Trade group forecasts sales of $228.8 billion this year, higher than 2020 but lower than 2019.

February 02, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Sales at U.S. bars and restaurants are expected to increase 10.2% in 2021 to an aggregate $548.3 billion as consumers sate pent-up demand for away-from-home dining and socializing, reports RestaurantBusinessOnline. That increase would follow a 19.2% drop in restaurant and bar sales during 2020.

The sales rebound will be slightly better for full-service establishments, according to the National Restaurant Association, with a 10.7% rise in nominal sales for what is universally regarded as the sector hit hardest by the pandemic.

Full-service restaurants collectively lost $85.5 billion in sales last year, while consumers sheltered at home. The National Restaurant Association expects total sales for full-service restaurants to top $228.8 billion this year, compared with $199.5 billion last year and $285 billion in 2019. Quick-service and fast-casual places will see an 8% rise in nominal sales and a 4% increase in real revenues in 2021, according to the trade association.

When it comes to bars and taverns, measured separately from restaurants that serve alcohol, the association expects sales to surge 80.2% in nominal terms and 77.6% on an inflation-adjusted basis in 2021.

The restaurant industry is still reeling from COVID-19. As of Dec. 1, 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily, or for good, the association says. The eating and drinking place sector finished 2020 nearly 2.5 million jobs below its pre-COVID-19 level. At the peak of initial closures, the association estimates as many as eight million employees were laid off or furloughed.

In December, restaurant employment in 46 states and the District of Columbia remained below February 2020’s pre-coronavirus level, according to the NRA. In 15 states and the District of Columbia, restaurant employment was still down more than 25% from February 2020. Of these states, Vermont (-45%), Michigan (-44%), Minnesota (-38%), the District of Columbia (-35%), Oregon (-34%) and New York (-34%) had the largest deficits from their pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Still, the industry is seeing promising trends in terms of new restaurant openings. As reported in NACS Daily, Yelp data indicates that 18,207 new restaurants opened in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2020, just a 4% decrease from the fourth quarter of 2019. Plus, grab-and-go food vendor openings increased year over year, with a significant increase in new food trucks and bakeries.

According to, these openings may seem unlikely, but there are certain advantages to introducing a new eatery right now. “First of all, there isn’t much ‘newness’ in the industry, and a new market entrant could offer differentiation and excitement for consumers who are relatively pessimistic right now,” said Joe Pawlak, managing principal of food insights consultancy Technomic. “A new restaurant opening in this environment is news in and of itself.”

New technological innovations may be helping restaurants gain confidence in their ability to open or reopen. The first virtual kitchen franchise, The Local Culinary, launched its franchise opportunity in October and now has 50 virtual restaurants, according to a recent company news release.

The latest Delivering on Restaurant Rewards report found that consumers spend 50% more on average when they place takeout orders online. Sit-down restaurant customers who order food for takeout spend $43 more per month than those who dine on-site, and restaurant customers who belong to loyalty programs spend twice as much as those who don’t.