According to GuestMetrics, based on its POS database of more than $8 billion in annual sales, table service restaurants and bars had sales break into positive territory with a gain of 0.7 percent for the four weeks ending March 24, an improvement vs. the 0.6 percent decline during the four-week period ending February 24 and also better than the 1.4 percent decline during the 8-week period ending January 27 (we looked at the 8-week view of Dec/Jan due to the shift of New Year’s Eve).
All three on-premise segments are showing improvement in the latest four weeks: casual dining was still in negative territory with a (2.7) percent decline but this was an improvement versus the (4.8) percent decline in the four weeks ending February 24 and the (5.7) percent decline for Dec/Jan period. Fine dining sales remained solidly in positive territory in March at +3.1 percent, similar to the +4.0 percent in February, and sales at bars and nightclubs were up +3.4 percent in March, a healthy improvement from the (4.1) percent decline they posted during February. The casual dining segment still had a (2.7) percent sales decline in March but that was still better than the (4.8) percent decline in February.
“While on-premise was generally quite weak during the holiday season and January, and then continued down during February, our data indicates that during March sales moved into positive territory,” says Bill Pecoriello, CEO of GuestMetrics LLC. “Based on our data, on-premise alcohol volumes were down (1.6) percent in the four weeks ending March 24 compared to a decline of (2.1) percent for the four weeks ending February 24 and the (3.6) decline for the 8 weeks ending January 27. Alcohol dollar sales were up 1.2 percent for the latest four weeks, similar to the 1.3 percent for the prior four weeks, as pricing was up 2.9 percent, a moderation from the 3.3 percent increase during the prior four weeks.”
“Looking at the specific alcohol categories, while March beer volumes were still negative with a (3.0) percent decline, this was a slight improvement from the (3.2) percent decline in the previous 4 weeks, and quite a bit better than the down (5.1) percent in the 8-week period for December and January,” says Peter Reidhead, VP of Strategy and Insights at GuestMetrics. “Beer trends improved in bars and nightclubs but remained weak in the casual dining channel. Spirits volume was down (2.0) percent, a slight improvement from down (2.8) percent through February 24 and the down (3.0) percent for the 8 weeks through January 27.
Spirits remained quite weak in the casual dining channel but improved in bars and nightclubs and remained positive in fine dining. Lastly, wine volume was up 4.2 percent vs. up 3.0 percent through February 24, both an improvement compared to the down (0.7) percent for the 8-week period through January 27. Relative to February, in March wine volume growth improved in bars and nightclubs, remained very strong in fine dining, and was flattish in casual dining but outperformed beer and spirits. Given the general moderation in alcohol pricing across the board, however, sales for the alcohol categories were similar to the prior four-week period. Beer dollar sales were up 0.6 percent vs. up 0.7 percent for the prior four weeks, wine sales were up 2.5 percent vs. 2.7 percent, and spirits sales were up 0.9 percent vs. up 0.7 percent.”
“After seeing signs of alcohol pricing moderating during the last 4 week period, the trend continued this past month with alcohol prices up 2.9 percent through March 24 versus up 3.3 percent through February 24,” says Brian Barrett, president of GuestMetrics. “However, offsetting this was some re-inflation in food prices. Food prices were up 2.6 percent for March compared to a 1.9 percent increase during February. Given food represents 65 percent of all sales in table service restaurants, it will be important to monitor whether this is a temporary uptick or whether prices will become a renewed headwind for volumes and traffic over the next few months.”