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More Than Half of Restaurants at Pre-COVID Levels or Better, But Can’t Meet Demand

  • 3 in 4 restaurants are leaning into tech to manage talent shortages
  • Experts provide tips for 45% of consumers struggling to book a table

After a turbulent two years, business has returned to “normal-ish” for most restaurants, but the ongoing hospitality labor shortage is keeping many from operating at full capacity…and keeping eager consumers from getting a table at preferred eateries, according to a new survey.

Popmenu’s new nationwide surveys of 374 restaurant owners and operators (May 18 – June 10) and 1,002 consumers (May 20-21) shed light on the industry’s recovery, the impact of pent-up demand and warmer weather, and what this means for in-person dining options – or lack thereof – this summer.   

The Road to Recovery – The vast majority of restaurant owners and operators report that market demand and sales at their locations have bounced back or will soon. However, a significant percentage voiced concern that another COVID wave this summer could shutter their business for good.  

Key Findings

  • 30% of restaurant owners and operators say their business has returned to pre-COVID levels while 25% say business has surpassed pre-COVID levels.
  • 29% expect business to return to pre-COVID levels in the second half of 2022 while others anticipate it will take longer to recover.
  • 42% say their business wouldn’t likely survive another COVID surge this summer.

Impact of the Labor Shortage on Summer Dining – While restaurants readily welcome the influx of in-person diners this summer, they’ve had to turn some business away because they don’t have enough workers to keep pace with guest volume. More are relying on tech to help bridge labor gaps.

Key Findings

  • 51% of restaurants don’t have the staff needed to handle on-premise demand this summer.
  • 33% are not operating at full capacity because they can’t find enough staff.
  • 76% of restaurants have adopted new tech or increased tech usage to manage through the labor shortage, ranging from online ordering and contactless dining to digital waitlisting and AI phone answering.1

Competition for Reservations – Consumers are having a hard time reserving tables at preferred eateries as restaurants advise to book well in advance.

Key Findings

  • 52% of restaurant owners and operators say consumers are not likely to get a reservation with them on the same day.
  • 45% of consumers are currently having trouble getting a reservation at a preferred restaurant.
  • 59% of consumers are ordering online more often because of long wait times or no available seating.

“While more than half of restaurant owners and operators say their business has reached or surpassed pre-pandemic sales, they can’t take full advantage of the demand for on-premise dining because they’re short-staffed,” said Brendan Sweeney, CEO and Co-founder of Popmenu. “This can be incredibly frustrating for restaurateurs — and their customers — which is why more are relying on guest-facing technology to make operations more efficient and capture revenue opportunities that would have otherwise been missed. For consumers, a little patience, planning ahead and staying connected with the restaurant will help ensure you’re next on the guest list.”

Tips to help consumers increase their chances of booking a table this summer:

  1. Book early: A week in advance will typically suffice to guarantee a seat, but keep in mind that some restaurants are booking three weeks out or even longer.
  2. Become a follower: Most restaurants will provide an opportunity for you to join a loyalty program or mailing list. VIP members often receive perks like priority seating, advance invites to events and exclusive discounts and promotions. Also make sure to follow your favorite restaurants on social media for insider info so you can plan ahead.
  3. Set up alerts: Different reservation apps will instantly notify you if a reservation time you wanted for a restaurant becomes available. Move quickly to snatch up the time before someone else does.
  4. Avoid peak hours. From early birds to night owls, booking outside of popular times such as 12pm to 2pm or 6pm to 8pm increases your chances of securing a table.
  5. Order to go: If all else fails, an impromptu picnic with your favorite restaurant food is always fun.

1Data from Popmenu’s nationwide survey of  321 U.S. restaurant owners and operators in Q1 2022.

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Carl Fox

Carl Fox is the senior money and finance writer for Conservative Daily News. Follow him in the "Money & The Economy" section at CDN and see his posts on the "Junior Economists" Facebook page.

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