Casual Dining Makes a Comeback

Here are the casual dining restaurants that are seeing the most foot traffic increase.

April 18, 2022

Texas Roadhouse Restaurant Exterior

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Casual dining foot traffic has increased 8.4% since 2021, according to research from TOP Data, which aggregated visit data from 12 million Americans. Consumers in Maine are getting the most foot traffic bounce back compared to 2021.

Additionally, Applebee’s is seeing the most foot traffic increase compared with 2021; however, Texas Roadhouse is the most popular casual dining destination in 12 states, which is more than any other restaurant.

Here are the top 10 states with the most increase in restaurant visits, according to the data.

1. Maine: 34.3%

2. Michigan: 30.3%

3. Oklahoma: 25.1%

4. Iowa: 23.8%

5. Nebraska: 20.7%

6. Wisconsin: 20.2%

7. North Dakota: 19.9%

8. Wyoming: 17.2%

9. Minnesota: 15.1%

10. New Hampshire: 14.7%

The bottom six states in the ranking actually saw a decrease in foot traffic at restaurants. Those states were Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Nevada and Tennessee.

Here are the top five restaurant brands seeing the highest level of foot traffic in 2022 versus 2021.

1. Applebee's: 27%

2. Texas Roadhouse: 21%

3. Buffalo Wild Wings: 21%

4. Olive Garden: 18%

5. Denny's: 17%

Last year’s convenience store foodservice sales reflected the trend of c-stores selling more restaurant-quality food. Foodservice, which includes prepared food, commissary, hot dispensed beverages, cold dispensed beverages and frozen dispensed beverages, saw sales grow 24.1% in 2021, and they are 10.6% higher than 2019 levels, according to NACS data released at the NACS State of the Industry Summit last week.

Overall, foodservice accounted for 22.5% of in-store sales in 2021—significantly higher than the 16.8% reported a decade ago. Foodservice now accounts for 35.5% of in-store gross profits, compared to 29.2% in 2011.

After declining 8.5% in 2020, sales of prepared food—the largest foodservice segment at 66.7% of foodservice sales dollars—surged 25.9% in 2021 and were 15.2% higher than in 2019. Meanwhile, hot dispensed beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels but continue to represent the second-largest segment of foodservice sales at (13.2%), followed by cold dispensed beverages (7.8%), commissary (6.6%) and frozen dispensed beverages (5.8%).

A robust foodservice offer was the greatest predictor of in-store profit; stores in the top decile for in-store store operating profit have foodservice gross profits that were 7 times those in the bottom decile.

The upcoming May issue of NACS Magazine is all about c-store foodservice—plus NACS SOI foodservice data. And stay tuned for an exclusive look at NACS SOI data for all of the key categories in convenience in the June issue of NACS Magazine.