US restaurant industry suffers huge financial losses due to COVID-19

The American economy as a whole has been devastated by COVID-19, but one of the most omnipresent aspects of daily life that’s been completely transformed is restaurant dining. While many restaurants across the 52 states reopened sometime in May, many did so with limited capacity and outdoor-only dining, facing a new set of challenges. And in many places throughout the United States, restaurants are among the reopened places that have closed again. They’ve been hit hard already and they’re certainly not out of the woods yet.

How much has been lost?

American Customer Satisfaction Index’s 2019–2020 report, released at the end of June, directly addressed the effects of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry. The data is constantly changing and takes a while to process, but the ACSI reports that, according to the National Restaurant Association, America’s restaurant industry lost a total of $120 billion between March and May alone. They also claimed that looking at current trends (early August), that number could double by the end of the year, resulting in losses of $240 billion nationally.

Which restaurants have been hit hardest?

Of course, the pandemic has been devastating for independently owned restaurants in every economy. In July, the Australian restaurant industry’s peak body, Restaurant and Catering Australia, told the ABC that they anticipated as many as 20 per cent of restaurants would be forced to close permanently. While in the US, many of the nation’s major chains have been hammered as well, with the ACSI report detailing which big-name eateries have shut down in most locations.

In the world of full-service dining, TGI Fridays, which globally has 981 outlets including across Australia and New Zealand, was harmed substantially by COVID-19 closures. ACSI reports that the burger chain had no program in place for curbside pickup, leaving them at a serious disadvantage compared to their competitors in the popular burger sector. They also struggled to handle the high volume of customer calls at the start of the pandemic, eventually turning their US headquarters into a call center. The damage? “Fridays is projecting that up to 20 per cent of its locations may close permanently,” the report says—and that was at the end of June before the virus resurgences reached their peak in the US. Another full-service restaurant global chain that may be facing a dark future is Ruby Tuesday, which was founded in 1972, and after closing 26 restaurants in 2019 is now anticipating more permanent closures in 2020.

For limited-service dining—which does seem, overall, to be better equipped for the continued pandemic than full-service—Subway provides an interesting case. In fact, it’s the fast-food chain closing more restaurants than any other. It came into 2020 after a whopping 1000 closures in 2019, but its mobile app, which is very well-received by customers, is keeping it afloat pretty well. Pizza Hut is another interesting case—it was already in the process of transitioning entirely to delivery and takeaway, and the pandemic has sped that along. The ACSI predicts that it could close 500 stores in the next two years, but its intention was to close in-person locations anyway.

The bottomline is that globally restaurants big and small are trying their best to pull through tumultuous times. This means that, while you absolutely must take safety precautions, keep going to restaurants—they want and need your business.

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