Sales & Traffic Not the Only Challenges for Restaurants, Guest Sentiment Takes a Hit in December

Black Box Intelligence™ - Jan 20, 2022 3:53:00 AM

Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot™ – December, 2021

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*Financial metrics are “same-store” metrics & reported on a 2-year comparison unless otherwise noted 


December was a disappointing month for restaurants, with sales growth of 4.1%, compared to 8.4% in November. It was the weakest month for the industry since the 2.7% reported in March 2021. The biggest downturn in sales growth occurred in last two weeks of December. Restaurant traffic also declined, although it held up a little better than sales. Traffic growth in December was -8.4%, down from -4.6% the previous month.  

A significant portion of this sales and traffic growth decline can be attributed to the end-of-year holidays falling during the weekend, which erased some potentially strong weekend sales at the end of 2021. The data also suggests other factors are at play behind the latest sales stumble, such as Omicron concerns or consumer pullback in response to historically high inflation rates and skyrocketing restaurant guest checks. 

In addition to sales and traffic softening in December, restaurants also faced difficulties satisfying their guests. The number of guests that mentioned restaurants being “short-staffed” or “understaffed” increased in the second week of December and climbed to record-high levels by the end of the year.  

The percentage of online restaurant reviews about ‘food’ classified as positive was essentially flat year over year. December 2021 was also the third-worst month of the year based on percentage of positive ‘food’ mentions. The only months with a smaller percentage of positive ‘food’ mentions were January and February when the industry was still undergoing a slump due to the winter Covid wave.  

Similarly, and not surprisingly given the record-high number of “understaffed” mentions, the percentage of ‘service’-centered restaurant reviews classified as positive dropped 3.4% year over year in December. This month also had the lowest percentage of positive ‘service’ mentions through all of 2021. 

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