US restaurant traffic up 2% year-over-year in February, according to Circana data; visits to quick service restaurants, representing 82% of total restaurant industry visits, up 3%

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CHICAGO , April 5, 2023 (press release) –

—Morning meal is a crucial driver of the industry’s recovery

The U.S. restaurant industry continued to recover from pandemic-related losses in February, with traffic up by 2% compared to a year ago, reports Circana, formerly IRI and The NPD Group. Visits to quick service restaurants, representing 82% of total restaurant industry visits, grew by 3% in the month over a year ago. Full service visit growth was held back by a 13% decline in dinner traffic, the segment’s busiest meal daypart, but the segment increased visits at morning meal and lunch. Visits to full service restaurants declined by 2% compared to a year ago. 

Total restaurant traffic at the morning meal, breakfast and A.M. snack, has fully recovered from pandemic losses. Morning meal restaurant visits grew by 10% in February compared to a year ago and are up 2% from three years ago. Whereas total restaurant lunch visits were down 1% in February compared to a year ago, and dinner traffic was down 3%.  

“We’re seeing strong customer traffic at breakfast and morning snack, which means consumers are looking for convenience and portable meals and snacks,” says David Portalatin, Circana food industry advisor. “On the other hand, dinner and lunch visit growth has been slower due to home-centric behaviors being stickier at these dayparts. At lunch, consumers have other choices, including bringing items from home or going to a workplace cafeteria, offering subsidized pricing or no-cost options. Additionally, the higher average check for lunch and dinner may make them less appealing to some consumers.”

As convenience is a factor in breakfast and morning snack growth, so is it for off-premises ordering, like drive-thru, carry-out, and delivery. In February, off-premises traffic represented 72% of the total restaurant traffic. Although on-premises visits have increased since the height of the pandemic, dine-in traffic is down double-digits from three years ago. 

“The morning meal growth is a clear sign of what consumers are looking for when using foodservice,” says Portalatin. “Moving forward, enticing consumers with convenience, whether portability, ordering ease, or speed, appears to be where the demand currently is in the foodservice industry.”

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