COVID-19 Analysis Part 7: Total Foot Traffic is Dropping Nationwide


Things are shifting rapidly day by day, so here is a recap of our findings over the last week.

After the recap, we'll provide an update on our latest foot traffic findings to examine how total foot traffic is decreasing in the U.S.

If you haven't already, register for our Daily Briefing webinars every morning at 9:30am Pacific to stay up-to-date on our latest insights.

Recap of last week's findings

Foot traffic trends

  • Grocery (especially Club) is experiencing massive gains in share of food visits; Full Service Dining down much more than Quick Service / Fast Casual and C-Stores
  • Independent restaurants are experiencing declines slightly more than chains are.
  • Shifts away from restaurants are more pronounced at earlier dayparts; also more in the West & Northeast than the South region.

Food habits

  • People's meal habits are shifting; Breakfast and Lunch are being eaten less commonly than Dinner
  • Most food buying/pick-up is still being done in-person; but 1 in 4 consumers still eat restaurant / retailer-prepared food on a given day.

Staying home

  • As days progress, an increasing percentage of the population is concerned about COVID-19 and anticipates reduced out-of-home activity, increased grocery stock-ups and online ordering.
  • 1/3 of employed workers are now working from home, and effort to not leave home is a major motivator in food decisioning.

Why consumers are choosing grocery over restaurants

  • For 1/5 of survey respondents, the fact that they are are not receiving their usual income is also a consideration, and the average consumer is considering affordability most when choosing grocery over restaurants.
  • However, other top reasons for not eating restaurant food are that people are still working through the groceries they have at home, and they're avoiding entering restaurants / having employees handle their food.
  • Things that would make consumers feel most comfortable entering stores include the availability of hand sanitizer at entry / exit, employees directing customers to sanitize, plus signage throughout the store disclosing COVID-19 practices (especially paid sick leave).


Our latest insights

Total foot traffic to restaurants and bars is down 51% as of March 20th.

While total foot traffic is not one of Sense360's usual metrics, given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, we felt it was important to examine foot traffic as an absolute metric rather than as a share metric. As of Friday, March 20th, we saw our total foot traffic had decreased by half compared to the same days last month (Fridays).


This is obviously a product of the many closures to dine-in restaurant and bar visits, but many restaurants are still open for take-out and drive-through - those visits are captured here. However, this is not fully reflective of restaurant business captured through delivery.

We will capture delivery metrics in future Daily Briefings. Now that we've reduced our transaction data lag from 30 days to 10 days, we'll have industry-leading turnaround time for transaction and delivery insights.

Total foot traffic declines vary by state.

Total traffic declines have struck US states differently by week, with some states seeing earlier dips coinciding with COVID-19 cases. California and Washington, which had some of the earliest reported cases of COVID-19, saw more severe decreases in total traffic at a faster pace than the national average and other states like Texas.

Once reported cases started spreading throughout New York, the state was one of the first to implement restaurant and bar closures. As a result, we saw a dramatic decrease in New York foot traffic last week compared to the prior week.

state level total traffic

Some restaurant categories are getting hit harder than others.

Pizza and Sandwich (QS) subcategories have seen the smallest decreases in visitation, while Mexican (FC) and Bakery Cafe (FC) subcategories have seen the biggest decreases in visitation.

One reason we believe Pizza is faring relatively well is that, on a per-person basis, pizza is high value in terms of the number of people it can feed for a low cost.

subcategory total traffic

People's perception of the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse.

Over the last 2 weeks, consumers have become increasingly concerned about the threat of coronavirus.


But as Congress deliberates over the economic stimulus package and China reports fewer confirmed cases, the world is wondering if it can start being cautiously optimistic. 

Our survey results may show, in the future, an upward trend in consumer sentiment as the pandemic passes and the world begins to recover to a new normal.