2020 Restaurant Trends: Big challenges and big changes

After a volatile 2020 America’s restaurants finished the year averaging 24.5% fewer orders for food and other items they did in 2019. That’s according to data released today by Buyers Edge Platform, a Digital Procurement Network for Foodservice. Buyers Edge Platform looked at more than $6 billion in restaurant orders since the pandemic shutdowns began in mid-March. Overall, restaurants spent on average 24.5% less on food and other items per quarter during the pandemic.

The worst week for orders was the week ending March 22nd, when orders were down 67.57%. As restrictions on dining relaxed, the numbers slowly improved until in October, orders actually matched, and slightly exceeded, pre-pandemic levels, before taking another nose dive in November and December as restrictions went back in place nationwide. By the end of December orders were back down to 30.1% below pre-pandemic levels, the lowest since early July. 

“Such a dramatic drop in business only tells part of the story of the struggle restaurant operators went through during the pandemic. The real challenge for operators was the uncertainty of managing labor and operating expenses. In March they were stranded with refrigerators full of food that they never were able to make a profit on. But the bills kept coming. And the Payroll Protection Program was a nightmare to navigate and led a lot of restaurants to keep their staff on the payroll for longer than they needed.”

John Davie, Buyers Edge Platform CEO

On a state by state basis, Nevada and Hawaii were the hardest hit during the pandemic, with drops of 65.1% and 58.9% respectively. 

“Nevada and Hawaii are the two states whose economies depend the most on hospitality, so it makes sense that they would be hit the hardest and have the toughest time rebounding.”

John Davie, Buyers Edge Platform CEO

Here’s a list of the ten states with the biggest drop in average weekly orders during the pandemic.

  1. Nevada 65.1% drop
  2. Hawaii 58.9% drop
  3. Washington 40.9% drop
  4. Vermont 40.1% drop
  5. Connecticut 35.8% drop
  6. Colorado 33.8% drop
  7. Arizona 32.5% drop
  8. Illinois 31.8% drop
  9. New Hampshire 30.9% drop
  10. Alaska 30.3% drop

The states whose restaurants seemed to weather the storm better included Wisconsin, Wyoming, and South Carolina, whose average weekly volume during the pandemic ended the year slightly above pre-pandemic numbers. 

A deeper dive into the numbers shows some of the broader trends that restaurant operators are experiencing, and some changes that may take a long time, if ever, to get “back to normal”. Paper and disposable products are one area that is very revealing.

As the demand for carryout and delivery skyrocketed during the pandemic, so did the demand for carryout boxes and bags.

  • As a percentage of their monthly orders, cases of disposable bags skyrocketed
  • 115% from February to December. 
  • Disposable boxes jumped 114%
  • Disposable lids jumped 96%

“I believe the pandemic only accelerated a change that we were already seeing going into 2020, and that’s an increase in the percentage of customers who ordered carryout and delivery,”

John Davie, Buyers Edge Platform CEO

But perhaps the most telling product category in the paper and disposable space is health and food safety products. As a percentage of their overall monthly orders, these products soared 81% from February to December, a true testament to operators working hard to ensure food and employee safety.  

Here are some other product categories that saw the biggest change as a percentage of total orders from February to December.

  • Frozen Dessert Products jumped 145%, perhaps a sign that customers sought the comfort of delicious desserts more during the pandemic.

There are telling details at the bottom of the list, too, with products that saw the biggest decrease as a percentage of total orders.

  • Orders for hotel products and accessories took a nosedive of 69% as the lodging sector suffered tremendously from the pandemic.
  • Or even something as simple as pens. Orders for pens dropped 67%, which could be expected when in person dining–and in person signing of checks–dropped off
  • Orders for fresh fish and frozen crab meat dropped 57% as consumers ordering takeout and delivery shied away from seafood, which doesn’t necessarily travel very well in to-go containers.