GLADSTONE, MO. — As government shutdowns increase again amid rising COVID-19 numbers, transactions are plunging at full-service restaurants across the United States. The number of transactions in that category fell 27% in the week ended Nov. 8 when compared with the same week of the previous year. That percentage was nearly at 80% late in March but had recovered to about 15% for the week ended Oct. 25.

“I feel like we are going to go into a really tough space with COVID cases increasing until we get the vaccine,” said Susan Schwallie, president of food and beverage consumption for The NPD Group, a market research and consumer insights company, in a Dec. 4 webinar organized by The Center for Food Integrity, Gladstone. “This is the second round for many of these (full-service restaurants) to try to make it through a shutdown. Of course, many full-service restaurants that were hanging on with outdoor dining have now lost that to the weather in the northern states.”

She gave Illinois as an example. Transactions at full-service restaurants in the state were down 59% for the week ended Nov. 8 after hovering around 20% through the month of September and still being under 30% for the week ended Oct. 25.

Total US restaurant transactions for the week ended Nov. 8 were down 8% with quick-service restaurant transactions down 7%.

“It’s clearly impacting the full-service restaurant to a much greater degree,” Ms. Schwallie said. “QSR just continues to gain share. They’ve got it figured out. They’ve got mobile ordering. They’ve got drive thru. They’ve got delivery.”

The NPD Group previously predicted restaurant traffic to improve in the first half of 2021.

“I’m not confident we’re going to see improvement in restaurants based on what we’re seeing with COVID picking up,” Ms. Schwallie said.

At-home meals accounted for about 80% of total meal occasions before the pandemic, and that percentage rose as high as 88% in April. Ms. Schwallie said she expects that once the pandemic fades, at-home eating still will have picked up two to three percentage points from foodservice in meal occasions when compared with percentages before the pandemic.

Vaccines for COVID-19 becoming available to a good portion of the US population in the summer could have an effect.

“If that happens, what will the restaurant recovery look like?” Ms. Schwallie said. “How hard will it come roaring back? What does that mean to food manufacturers who are now going to be comping off crazy sales in 2020, and how do they manage that?”