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Report: How COVID-19 has impacted sales at local restaurants and bars in the U.S.

March 19, 2020

As state and local officials continue to take drastic measures in an effort to contain spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, local restaurants and bars have been hit especially hard.

Several states have already restricted restaurants and bars to operate as “takeout only,” and more states are likely to take similar measures very soon. Even without such measures, as more and more people begin to practice social distancing, there’s little question that local restaurants and bars are in for some tough times.

At Womply, we’ve been analyzing revenue data at local businesses in all 50 states and across hundreds of business categories, and we wanted to see exactly how coronavirus fears have affected sales at local restaurants and bars.

Chart #1: Last week year-over-year change in sales at restaurants as a result of COVID-19 impact

One way to look at how efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus might be impacting local businesses is to look at the most recent week vs. the same time period in 2019. The graphic below shows this view for local restaurants, updated daily to show the most recent 7-day period.

Note, you can click on a state to view county-level data

A few observations:

  • The week of March 23rd, restaurant sales were significantly down in every single state in the country
  • Most states saw revenue down between 50 and 60%
  • This was the week when several states and metro areas began to enact “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders

A look back at this map on the week of March 16th:

  • Restaurant sales were down across the entire country (except for New Jersey)
  • Most states saw revenue down between 20 and 30%
  • This was the first week when several states restricted restaurants to “takeout only”

A look back at this map on the week of March 9th:

  • This was the first week when restaurant sales dropped significantly around the country, typically around 10 to 20%.
  • Seven states still narrowly avoided a decrease in year-over-year sales during this week (Delaware, Montana, Hawaii, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Iowa).

Chart #2: A daily view of how sales at restaurants are trending compared to the same time last year

Another way to look at impact on restaurants and bars is to analyze every day of the 2020 calendar year against sales on the closest day of the week in 2019. That’s what you’ll see in the charts below for all 50 states (we’ll look at specific states and cities later on).

Let’s start with restaurants:

Note: if viewing on mobile, rotate device to landscape for best viewing experience of the charts in this article

A few observations from this view:

  • The spike and dip you see in mid-February has to do with the day of week on which Valentine’s Day fell in 2019 vs 2020, and is unlikely related to the coronavirus
  • Restaurants were otherwise having a pretty solid 2020, bringing in consistently higher daily revenue than in 2019.
  • Even as late as March 8th, restaurants nationwide did 3% better than during the same time in 2019
  • Sales began a free fall on the week of March 9th, as a series of major news events thrust the seriousness of the outbreak into the national spotlight
  • Sales dropped down to more than 50% below 2019’s figures during the week of March 16th, as more states began to restrict restaurants to “takeout only”
  • The weekend of March 21-22 saw revenue fall to a 68% decrease

A day-by-day calendar view reveals exactly when restaurant sales began to drop:

A daily view of how sales at bars are trending compared to the same time last year

The same look at sales at local bars and lounges reveals a similar trend

Again, some observations from this view on sales at bars:

  • Bars across the country had a strong January and February, regularly pulling in 10% to 20% more daily revenue than in 2019
  • Again, even as late as March 8th, bars were also outperforming 2019 by an impressive 13% margin, and even March 11th saw a 4% increase in revenue
  • The day after the NBA suspended its season (and several other sports leagues quickly followed suit), and “social distancing” entered the public lexicon, sales at bars rapidly began to plummet
  • Sales rebounded slightly on St. Patrick’s Day, but still massively unperformed what bars would otherwise experience on St. Patrick’s Day
  • The following days, as more states and cities enacted restrictions on local bars, sales plummeted to a 66% decrease

Here’s a calendar view for bars and lounges:

This is likely only the beginning of what will no doubt be an extremely difficult time for local restaurants and bars across the country, so keep an eye on these charts as we update the figures daily.

In the meantime, let’s take a look how sales at restaurants and bars have been impacted in the states where the coronavirus outbreak hit first: New York, California, and Washington.

New York restaurants have seen sales plummet

New York was one of the first U.S. states with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and has enacted drastic measures in an effort to keep the virus as contained as possible. As a result, restaurants and bars in the Empire state have seen sales plummet since the beginning of week of March 9th.

By the weekend of March 21-22, as the situation in New York grew more dire, sales had dropped all the way to 76% below 2019’s figures.

The story is much the same in New York City (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond counties). Take a look:

Notice how the dip accelerates around the events of mid-March, particularly after restaurants were restricted to “takeout only.” Then again even further as New Yorkers were asked to stay at home for all but essential travel.

Sales dropped later, but steeper, at bars in New York

Let’s now take a look at bars in New York:

Sales at bars across the state of New York follow a very similar trend to bars nationwide, staying resistant to COVID-19 fears all the way until March 12th, when revenue began a steep plunge.

Bars in New York City follow a similar trend:

The story is much more severe for bars in the New York metro area, though. Even before NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down in-person bar patronage on March 15, sales at the city’s bars and lounges were suffering consistently as more people opted to stay home.

Read more: The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses in New York, including: supermarkets, hotels and motels, arts and entertainment businesses and more

California restaurants are hurting, too

In addition to New York, California has had a disproportionately high number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Particularly in the bay area and Los Angeles county.

As you can see in the chart below, restaurants began to suffer a slowdown in sales right around the time California declared a state of emergency on March 4th.

The bay area, where there’s the highest per-capita infection rate in the state, shows an even steeper drop, starting on February 27th.

Restaurants in and around San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose started the month pulling 8% less revenue than in 2019, and by the weekend of March 13th, sales had plummeted to nearly 40% less than the year before.

After bay area counties enacted a “shelter in place” ordinance, revenue dropped to around 75% below 2019’s averages.

Let’s take a look at Los Angeles, where COVID-19 cases are also high:

LA restaurants actually saw sales hovering around 2019’s numbers through the first week of March. Then, on March 10th, sales began a precipitous drop that’s unlikely to improve anytime soon.

California bars have seen sales plummet

The trendline for bars across the state has been pretty spiky all year, swinging between near 20% increases and dropping to near 40% decreases compared to 2020. The weekend of March 21-22 marks a clear low point for bars across the state.

Sales at bars in the bay area look quite similar to those in the state as a whole.

Sales at bay area bars were also spiky to start the year, but consistently quite high. Even as late as Friday, March 6th, bay area bars did 7.5% better than in 2019, signaling a reluctance among locals to stay away from bars even as fears of the virus began to mount.

That sentiment appears to have shifted rapidly by the following weekend, though. On Friday, March 13th, sales had plummeted to 28% below 2019’s numbers. Now that locals are under “shelter in place,” we’ve seen sales dip as low at 75% below 2019’s figures.

Let’s take a look at Los Angeles:

Aside from the occasional huge spike in revenue through mid-February, sales have mostly lagged behind 2019’s figures through all of 2020. Weekends since March 2nd, when Governor Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency in California, sales have been particularly poor.

Read more: The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses in California, including: supermarkets, hotels and motels, arts and entertainment businesses and more

Sales have been down at restaurants across the state of Washington since late February

Washington, and King County in particular, has been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and as you can imagine, restaurants across the  state have been severely impacted as a result.

As you can see, sales only continued to drop statewide as the month of March progressed and the situation grew more serious. On March 15th, Governor Jay Inslee announced the closing of all dine-in restaurants in the state of Washington, and as you can see, sales quickly plummeted down to a 70% drop by March 21st.

The impact is even more dramatic in King County, where the outbreak has been the most pronounced.

Restaurants in and around the Seattle area were seeing close to 2019’s average revenue numbers for most of the year. Then on February 29th, sales dropped to 21% below 2019’s averages.

By the 21st daily restaurant revenue had tumbled all the way down to 78% less than during the same time in 2019.

Washington bars are experiencing a similar impact

Sales at bars in Washington started the year slow (perhaps as locals got more serious about Dry January than they did last year), but things were actually looking up in February.

Like with restaurants, though, as the the COVID-19 situation in Washington grew more serious, bars began to see fewer customers in their doors.

Bars were also ordered to close on March 15th, prompting a rapid drop in sales. Since the week of Monday, March 16th, sales have been consistently below a 60% decrease.

Bars in King County followed a very similar, if not more dramatic trend than those across the state.

By March 3rd, sales at bars in King County had dropped to 17% below 2019’s figures. The following weeks saw a gradual drop in revenue, until cratering in the 80% decrease range starting the week of Monday, March 16th.

Read more: The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses in Washington, including: supermarkets, hotels and motels, arts and entertainment businesses and more

What’s next for U.S. restaurants and bars?

If COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., we can only expect more states to implement the kind of “takeout only” measures already implemented in other states. Between those measures, self-imposed quarantines, and strict social distancing, local restaurants and bars are bracing for tough times ahead.

If the U.S. economy goes into recession as a result of the coronavirus, all local businesses will feel the pain, especially restaurant and bar owners, who appear to be on the forefront.

Here are some helpful resources and articles to help local restaurants and bars during this crisis:

We will continue to update this data analysis over time, and we’re continuing to analyze sales patterns at other local business types such as retail stores, supermarkets, lodging businesses, and more. Stay tuned.

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