- Restaurants and bars hired 286,000 employees in February, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday. This gain could indicate an early sign of the industry's recovery, further bolstered by the more than 54 million Americans (roughly 16% of the U.S. population) who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as impending warmer weather to promote outdoor dining, CNBC reports.
- The $1,400 stimulus checks included in President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which could be passed into law as early as this week, could lift restaurant sales by low-to-mid single digits for up to seven weeks, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysis reported by Nation's Restaurant News. Comparatively, the $600 per person checks issued during the last round lifted casual dining sales by 3% and QSR sales by 5% for about three weeks.
- This recovery is likely to accelerate, as Biden announced on March 2 the U.S. could have enough vaccines for every U.S. adult by end of May — just in time for outdoor dining season to return to full swing in several regions.
Major restaurant brands are feeling bullish about diner response to widespread vaccinations, especially.
During Dine Brands' most recent Q4 2020 call, CEO John Peyton said the company is "anticipating [a] rebound in the second half of the year, driven primarily by increases in vaccination rates."
Cheesecake Factory CEO David Overton also said during the company's Q4 call that, "We believe that with vaccination on the horizon, our concepts are well positioned for a recovery as dining restrictions ease."
Legacy chains have also touted the financial boost they have gained in the wake of past stimulus payments. During Domino's Q4 earnings call, CEO Ritch Allison said, "There is no question that the stimulus dollars and the enhanced federal unemployment insurance certainly puts money in consumers' pockets and allows them to go out and buy food."
Still, while there is optimism around post-stimulus diner spending, the macro environment remains fluid. As McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski noted in the company's Q4 earnings call, "We think this concern about the economy, about people's financial health, is going to be something that persists through the balance of 2021."
Dining out also remains a concern for some health experts and consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just issued updated research showing that on-site restaurant dining leads to increased rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, for example. The CDC also released updated safety guidelines this week for people who have been vaccinated, encouraging vaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks in public and avoid medium- to large-sized gatherings. It's possible these guidelines could deter vaccinated consumers from dining out more frequently.
According to Nielsen, 24% of Americans say they’ll spend more dining out once a vaccination is widely distributed, but 22% said they'll spend less. Nielsen analysts said this suggests a slower-than-expected return to normalcy for the industry. Still, outdoor dining provided a lifeline for restaurants and industry employees during the summer of 2020. For example, New York City's outdoor dining initiatives, Open Restaurants and Open Streets, helped recover roughly 100,000 jobs last year.