COVID-19 Analysis Part 9: Free-fall of Restaurant Foot Traffic is Decelerating

As shelter-in-place orders and non-essential business closures depress the hospitality industry nationwide, more people are staying home than ever before. To understand what's happening, we've examined total foot traffic in March compared to February to see exactly how hard bars and restaurants were hit.

Sense360 normally analyzes foot traffic using relative metrics like market share and share of visit, but given the new landscape, it's more important than ever to understand absolute changes to foot traffic. Note that the traffic metrics below encompass in-person visits like drive-through, pickup and take-out, but not delivery.

The steep decline in total foot traffic decline is leveling off, but possibly hasn't stabilized yet.

Since the March 11th pandemic announcement by the WHO, there has been a steep decline in total foot traffic nationwide. We measure this is by comparing each day below to its equivalent weekday last month; for example, on Friday the 27th, total traffic was 58% lower than it was on the average Friday in February.


Last week, the total decline of restaurant and bar foot traffic held steady generally in the -50% to -60% range compared to February. The peak was on March 22nd. Starting on March 23rd, it has slightly recovered and has held steady ever since. March 23rd coincides with an increase in Google searches on social media campaigns like #GreatAmericanTakeout and other efforts by restaurants to drive more pickup and delivery business. 

While the decline is decelerating, it may not be stabilizing yet. Although it appears that restaurant foot traffic is stabilizing compared to February, this doesn't mean year-over-year comps are stabilizing. Normally, there is annual seasonality at play in which traffic normally grows in March. So, even though the pattern is holding somewhat constant, in a normal environment, we would expect that traffic in March should steadily be growing over time.

While we are closely watching our data for clues that forecast a return to normalcy, we don't believe this warrants too much optimism yet. All we're experiencing right now is that the free-fall in visitation is stabilizing, but is still down by a wide margin compared to February.

Another thing that we've looked at in more detail is total traffic by region. For reference, below we've included the census sub-region map. The Pacific region also includes Hawaii and Alaska.


Regional volatility is leveling out as all U.S. regions approach the same level of traffic decline.

The chart below shows the magnitude of foot traffic decline by region, compared to the decline experienced nationally. The axis on the left, has its centerpoint, -1.0, as the national average in foot traffic declines.

If a region is at -1.0, that means its traffic decline is on par with the national average (e.g. if national traffic was down 20%, then that region was also down 20% on that date).

If the region is higher on the axis and at a less severe level, like -0.6 or -0.7, their traffic decline is occurring at a slower rate than what was occurring nationally. Conversely, if they're below the axis at -1.4 or -1.5, the region's traffic declines were accelerating much more aggressively than what was being experienced nationally.


When we examine the days immediately following the WHO pandemic declaration on the 11th, which was followed by social distancing measures by local governments,  the biggest declines started in the Pacific faster than anywhere else in country.

As the days progressed further, the biggest declines were starting to shift to occur in the middle Atlantic, which includes states like New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. New York and New Jersey were hit especially heavily by COVID-19 cases, making up around half of total cases in the country.

Early on, the region which saw the slowest decline in foot traffic was the South Atlantic, which includes the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. The Mountain region and East South central region had slower-than-average declines over the last week. 

However, the pattern is converging. Even though, in earlier periods, some parts of the country were experiencing more severe traffic declines than others, we're reaching a point where regions are all closer to being in the same band of rate of foot traffic decline compared to the country as a whole.

This is indicative of the fact that by now, social distancing has been implemented mostly everywhere. There still may be some local variance in the adoption of social distancing practices, but overall, regional foot traffic is converging more and more towards the national average of total decline. 

As we saw in the first chart on this page, that decline seems to be arresting in recent days. 

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