Overall, May 2022 was a good month for restaurant sales. The expected slowdown in sales growth continued thanks to last year’s sales numbers — which were impacted by vaccines for COVID-19 and the reduction of pandemic restrictions. Both unleashed pent-up demand in the market, creating today’s challenging sales hurdles. Month-over-month, sales growth numbers held steady, staying at levels that would have been considered robust in the pre-COVID era.
Sales growth was +4.9% in May, down only slightly from the +5.3% reported for April. These strong sales numbers are due to guest check growing at an accelerated pace. The bigger concern is traffic, which posted its third straight month of negative growth. Traffic growth was -2.9% during the month, a small downtick from the -2.8% experienced in April. But even these negative traffic growth numbers are not far off from what was happening at the end of 2019. The months in Q4 2019 posted average traffic growth of -2.0%.
Although holding on to guest counts is a current challenge, the data suggests it may be due to factors outside of a restaurant’s control. Reports indicate that guests are more positive about their restaurant experiences than they were a year ago. At the same time, operators seem to be delivering on their promise of a good restaurant experience, especially when it comes to service.
According to online reviews, guest net sentiment* for restaurant service improved by almost six percentage points year-over-year in May. Furthermore, positive net sentiment for service has increased since the beginning of the year compared to 2021 — with May posting the third highest service sentiment since January of 2021.
Food net sentiment remained virtually flat year-over-year in May. Last year posted strong food sentiment as well. May 2022 had the second highest food net sentiment scores in the last 17 months.
*Net sentiment represents the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions in online restaurant reviews.
Financial metrics are “same-store” metrics & reported on a one-year comparison unless otherwise noted
Ratings much lower for off-premise orders in full-service, difference less significant in limited-service
When it comes to restaurant review data, one thing that is very clear, though not unexpected: guests tend to rate their restaurant experiences as more positive when dining at the restaurant than when they consume their food or beverages off-premises. What is surprising is how small the difference in the ratings is between these two channels in the case of limited-service restaurants.
For full-service restaurant brands, the average star rating (based on a five-star scale) during Q2 2022 was 4.0 when related to a dine-in experience. While the average rating fell to 2.8 when referring to off-premises. That is a substantial drop of 1.2 points between the two channels.
The key drivers behind the lower off-premises ratings for full-service brands are typically related to either longer wait times and problems with the orders. There was a higher percentage of negative mentions of time-related issues (“wait,” “minutes,” and “long”) in off-premises reviews than for those for dine-in. There was also a higher rate of mentions based on a specific issue with the order — things like “cold,” “wrong,” and “forget,” as well as fewer mentions of the food being “delicious” in off-premises orders.
In the case of limited-service restaurants, overall average star ratings were low, and the difference between the two was slim. The average dine-in experience in limited-service led to an average star rating of 2.8, compared to 2.4 for orders to be consumed off-premises — a drop of only 0.4 points. Limited-service sees a predominant share of business through off-premises channels. As a result, they are typically able to execute more consistently despite off-premises’ challenges. But this month’s low overall rating suggests that there are still challenges present — and something all brands should take note of as an opportunity for improvement.
In the case of limited-service restaurants, the largest driver of the drop in off-premises rating relative to dine-in was the time waiting for orders, with “wait” being mentioned in off-premise reviews 1.4 times more often than in those for dine-in orders.
Regional & market performance
There is no doubt that Florida dominated during May based on major metropolitan areas with the most positive restaurant net sentiment. The designated market area with strongest sentiment based on service, beverages, ambiance, and intent to return was Tampa, while the most positive for restaurant food and value was Orlando.
Besides Orlando and Tampa, which topped the list for most positive food net sentiment, other major markets in which restaurants achieved strong positive sentiment based on their food were Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; Indianapolis and Miami. These same DMAs led the country on service net sentiment during the month.
On the other end of the spectrum, guests are the least positive about their restaurant experiences in San Francisco. During May, San Francisco had the lowest net sentiment for restaurant food, service, value and intent to return.
The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot™ (RGSS) is produced by data from Black Box Guest Intelligence™. Guest Intelligence benchmarks customer satisfaction data from over 190 brands and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The data set focuses on six key attributes of the restaurant industry experience: food, service, ambiance, beverage, value, and intent to return.
The RGSS algorithm determines the highest-ranking brands based on sentiment. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must have a minimum number of units to be eligible as well. DMA rankings consider only the largest 25 areas.