Restaurant recovery in the US has slowed as the spread of the Delta variant has forced restaurateurs to rethink their plans and close dining rooms, again.
After a year and a half of disrupted business, many restaurants are feeling the pain as they are forced to either close their indoor seating areas, or limit their opening hours. This more infectious strain of Covid-19, along with slowing rates of vaccination uptake, and the ongoing staffing crisis, means many restaurants have to limit their business to outdoor dining areas, despite having invested in making dining rooms safe to eat in.
Sales that had steadily grown earlier in the summer have fallen in the past five weeks, data from restaurant analytics firm Black Box Intelligence showed.
After a strong rebound over the summer, that growth has slowed as customers begin to resume more cautious behaviour heading into the autumn. The US restaurant industry lost up to 45,000 jobs in August, the biggest decline since December, making it the hardest his sector.
The staffing crisis that has seen many restaurants unable to operate at full capacity has been well documented, but is now compounded by weakened consumer confidence, and a return to mask mandates and restricted public gatherings in many states.
The alarming jump in infections led President Joe Biden to issue a vaccine mandate for an estimated four million federal employees and workers on government contracts last week.
Diners returned to their favourite restaurants en masse over the summer months, offering a brief respite from the financial disruption of the pandemic for beleaguered restaurant owners. Now, nearly one in five Americans say they are no longer going out to restaurants, and 9% have cancelled existing plans to eat out in recent weeks, according to a national survey of 1,000 adults by the National Restaurant Association.
While the initial uptake of vaccinations in the US made it the clear global leader, that rate has slowed to that of the lowest in the G7 group of the world’s wealthiest democracies. A slower uptake, a more virulent strain, and the return of schools after summer holidays, are all combining to hit the restaurant industry.
Time will tell whether the current surge will wain between now and Christmas, but until then restaurateurs may have to rely more heavily on takeout orders in place of indoor dining receipts.
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