Data shows that, in the coronavirus economy, we’re all just eating our feelings

Illustration for article titled Data shows that, in the coronavirus economy, we’re all just eating our feelings
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt (Getty Images)

These have been hard times for sit-down restaurants, which have been trying all sorts of strategies to stay open over the past six months, or have just given up and folded altogether. But Americans are still eating out, and, based on customer spending data taken from debit card transactions, they’re doing it even more in 2020 than they did in 2019. So what are they eating and drinking?

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They’re eating and drinking the same things Americans have always eaten eaten and drank when things get tough: wings, smoothies, sub sandwiches, coffee, and, especially, pizza.

A summary, courtesy of QSR:

Entering the pandemic, these four categories show relatively flat year-over-year growth of roughly negative 5 to 10 percent. Then in late March, as the effects of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns started to fully be felt, quick serve, coffee, and diners all take a year-over-year dive of roughly 20, 45, and 80 percent, respectively.

But then, over the next four months, they dig out of that hole. By the week ending August 16, casual dining is only down 1 percent year-over-year, while coffee is actually up 27 percent year-over-year and quick serve is up 32 percent.

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And pizza... pizza was experiencing 55% year-over-year growth in April. That number rose to 64% by mid-August.

Pizza places, especially the big chains, as QSR points out, have advantages that other restaurants do not: even before the stay-at-home orders, their business model was based on takeout and delivery, and they also have a limited menu, which keeps food costs down.

Interestingly, though, according to the charts that accompany the QSR story, the chain that experienced the biggest growth was not pizza. It was Culver’s, the Midwestern-based burger and frozen custard chain. The article didn’t mention this at all, but as someone who’s a huge fan of Culver’s, I will venture a guess: when you have a chance to eat a burger, cheese curds, and a concrete all in one meal, you’re going to go for it.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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Checks scale.... I have too many feelings