Is restaurant foot traffic rebounding? A look at dayparts, weekdays, urbanicity, and states vs. national.

Now that states are reopening, some restaurants are allowing dine-in service, and people generally have more freedom to be out and about, we analyzed total foot traffic trends using data from our panel of 2 million smart phone users. Our methodology is to compare each day on the graph to its equivalent weekday in February; for instance, we compare Sunday, May 17th to the Sundays in February.

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What we've seen is that throughout April and into mid-May, both the restaurant and food retail markets nationally have gained back foot traffic compared to the low points that they experienced during the earlier parts of the Coronavirus lockdown.

Next, we examined total foot traffic to restaurants and bars by daypart, again compared to a February baseline. Occasions like breakfast and late night are the ones where consumers have steered away from restaurant traffic the most throughout coronavirus and they're down to a larger extent compared to the February baseline than the other dayparts like lunch, afternoon and dinner.

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The later times of the day, like dinner and late night, are the dayparts when foot traffic is accelerating at the highest rate compared to earlier weeks. Those occasions sets are the ones that it appears consumers have the greatest need for, or are most comfortable returning to. Foot traffic during breakfast is still returning, but at a slower rate. This suggests that a lot of the drivers of breakfast restaurant visitation have been disrupted, like workday commutes.

We also examined foot traffic to restaurants and bars by day of week. The pie chart below shows the average amount of foot traffic on each weekday over the most recent couple of weeks, with darker shading representing heaver foot traffic on that day. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are days of the week where consumers are visiting restaurants less, which was true of the pre-coronavirus period too. And visitation picks up on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

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The red table shows a comparison of weekday foot traffic performance between the peak coronavirus period versus the most recent period. The cells show how much each day of the week was incurring a loss compared to their own baseline in February. During the peak coronavirus periods of late March through early April, Saturdays and Sundays saw the biggest declines in restaurant visitation compared to February. Coronavirus has disrupted the dine-in occasions that were most suited towards weekends - times where people have more free time for social occasions, as opposed to just getting drive through or takeout.

In the more recent period of April 27th through May 17th, all of the weekdays saw improved foot traffic. On a relative basis, the improvement in traffic on Sundays has been nearly twice as good as Monday through Thursday in recent weeks. That said, Easter Sunday and Mother's Day factored into our Sunday analysis, but nonetheless we have still seen a high rate of improvement on Sundays.

Basically, the days that used to be the most high-traffic for restaurant activity prior to coronavirus were also the ones that got hit the hardest by lockdowns, and are now improving at the highest rate. The main takeaway is that the restaurant industry is essentially living or dying by the weekends.

When we split total foot traffic up into rural, suburban or urban areas, we see that rural areas have been consistently performing better than suburban areas, which perform better than urban areas.

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This makes sense because densely-populated areas generally saw stricter shelter-in-place orders from their local governments. In recent weeks, a wider spread in total foot traffic is emerging between these three types of geographies.

We also examined total foot traffic with a few select states compared to national. States like Texas or Georgia, which loosened restrictions relatively early, are outpacing the national average in terms of restaurant visitation. But they also were trending better than national far before they changed any of their policies too.

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Likewise, some of the states that still have stricter orders like New York, Michigan, California, and Illinois are underperforming compared to national, and were also underperforming national far before any changes in social distancing orders. around the total traffic trends that we've seen over the last few weeks. 

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