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Restaurant Outlook Grim, According to Operators in Black Box Intelligence Survey

Two-thirds of polled executives expect environment to worsen in next 3 months.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

Restaurant operators and executives have grown pessimistic about the next three months in the face of coronavirus-related fears, according to an informal survey Thursday.

Black Box Intelligence, the Dallas-based analytics firm, polled nearly 300 operators and executives on a “Q3 State of the Industry” webinar, and found two-thirds “expect things to get worse for restaurants over the next three months.”

The restaurant industry has been struggling with state and local restrictions and stay-at-home orders since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

With surges in coronavirus infections reported across a number of states, the operators surveyed Thursday expect “the environment for restaurants over the next 90 days will continue to be challenging.”

The topmost concern among the polled operators was safety, with a growing number taking visible precautions.

Of the nearly 300 operators polled Thursday:

• 96% require masks for all restaurant staff

• 86% have removed some tables from restaurants

• 77% take the temperature of their employees before a shift

• 71% require gloves for all restaurant staff

• 57% have implemented Plexiglass barriers (most common in limited-service brands)

Photo Courtesy of Healthline.

"With 96% of restaurants requiring masks for all staff and 86% removing tables from their dine-in spaces, we are seeing safety as a top concern for operators," said Kelli Valade, president and CEO of Black Box. “For guests, ‘clean’ is the new ambiance, or atmosphere, and operators are addressing this head on.

“Trust will come when guests feel safe, and we are already noticing higher service scores likely as a result,” Valade said. “But to keep consumers dining out, it’s table stakes for operators to absolutely get cleanliness right and be consistent.”

From April to June, net sentiment for the term “clean” in social-media mentions increased almost 20 points, the company said.

“It’s clear that if there is one overarching concern in guests’ minds today it is the need for feeling safe,” Black Box Intelligence said Friday in its weekly update.

Black Box Financial Intelligence, which tracks same-store sales trends among its member companies, said that for the week ended July 5 comparative-store sales worsened by almost 2 percentage points for the industry.

“This year the drop in average sales was 9% during the week of July Fourth,” Black Box said. “Although this holiday week typically means a decline in sales for restaurants, this year it was much worse.”

Dine-in sales year-over-year growth in full-service restaurants was starting to trend down again in recent weeks, Black Box noted, while off-premise sales growth had shown an increase.

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