Lee Barnes
Lee Barnes
Lee leads the Data Insights team and is a self-confessed data geek who can often be found engaging with his team members and digging into all kinds of data.

New Covid hotspots stagnate growth, but bring no new losses

The final weeks of June and early half of July ushered in a new era of the pandemic, as southern and western states that had largely evaded the worst of Covid-19 became new virus hotspots. The rising number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations forced many states to order restaurants shutter their dining rooms – again – and meant fewer drivers on the road as other businesses wound down operations. 

Despite the setback, Paytronix data shows that the restaurant industry’s recovery has slowed, but not reversed. In late March and into early April, restaurant sales dropped to 30% of pre-COVID levels.  Starting in the middle of April we saw sales recover at a rate of 0.4% – 0.5% per day, reaching 70% of pre-COVID levels by the July 4th weekend.   […]

Fuel sales data suggests shorter trips for July 4th this summer

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this July 4th holiday was anticipated to be, in relative terms, one of the weakest Independence Day travel periods in the last 50 years. But while overall travel was down, the percentage of Americans traveling by car was projected to be higher than usual, a prediction that appears to be supported by fuel sales data.   

Comparing 2020 and 2019 data is more difficult than usual; this year the 4th fell on Saturday but the holiday was observed on Friday. Last year, it fell and was observed on Thursday.  The charts below show the gas sales (measured in gallons) over the holiday period and in the weeks running up to the holiday.   

On each chart the solid lines are the sales on that day, the dotted lines are the same day the previous week as a comparison.  We can see some key similarities and differences in the data between the 2 years:  

In both years we see a run up in sales above the previous week, beginning a few days before the holiday (excluding the Tuesday in 2019) as people fuel up their cars in advance of planned trips.  This indicates that holiday celebrations still involved travel in 2020.  […]

The industry rallied around gift cards, but did it help?

As the COVID-19 crisis gripped the restaurant industry, a call went out for people to purchase gift cards to help keep restaurants afloat. The hope was that an increase in gift card sales would sustain restaurants while they converted to a future dominated by online ordering, takeout, and delivery.

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The media ran with the story and restaurants nationwide sent out pleas to their customer base to help with a gift card or egift purchase.

An analysis of restaurant gift card sales in early 2020 reveals that the marketing effort worked but ultimately achieved mixed results. Overall, sales dropped during the pandemic, but that drop was much less severe than we saw in overall restaurant sales during that same period.

Around the same time we saw an increase in overall load amount on the cards purchased, with most of that increase happening in Casual and Fast Casual brands. This suggests that yes, the effort did manage to keep things from getting worse and provided restaurants with a much-needed kick. However, the actual impact on business is much more difficult to discern.

Gift card loads tend to hover around the $30 range for the industry as a whole, but in March we saw that number spike as high as $60, then settle in at about $15 higher than normal, eventually falling well below the normal benchmark.

Markets with the biggest impact

When we look closer, things vary through the industry. Fine Dining, for example, saw little movement in the average price of a gift card when compared year over year, while both Fast Casual and Casual Dining brands increases of between $10 and $30 on their average gift card sales. All that said, much of that lift was gone as we entered Q2. 

It’s also worth noting that included in the “gift cards” category are recurring loads for things like app-based purchases. Your coffee app may ask for your credit card, but you are effectively buying a gift card when you reload, then spending that money over time.

Moving forward, however, we see that gift card sales remain well below last year’s levels as we head into Q2, with traditional bumps in sales that happen around Mother’s Day and Graduation season being much less pronounced than in previous years. It is possible that people have switched to more generic gift card offerings, like those from third party delivery services, but we have little evidence to draw a full conclusion.

This is worth watching. However, given that the vast majority of gift card sales happen during the holiday season, we won’t have a good idea of whether there are major changes to the marketplace until the end of 2020.

Data Dive: Mother’s Day Bump Helps Ongoing Restaurant Recovery

In a trend happening nationwide, we continue to see a recovery among our restaurant clients. Looking at the week-on-week data we can see that the run of positive weekly results has continued, with each day an average of ~5% to 10% higher than the week before. Mother’s Day, however, showed two interesting trends. First, it was a massive uptick from the previous Sunday, but check sizes were also higher than visits, indicating that people visited more expensive restaurants, or at least were ordering food for more people at once.

There is always a bump for Mother’s Day, but the difference this year from the previous trend shows tremendous pent-up demand from the market. Clearly people wanted to spoil mom.

Still, when we look at the fixed-period chart that compares sales to a pre-COVID baseline, we can see that visits and spend are still down, but up from the bottom. We’re a long way from a full recovery, but the trendlines are headed in the right direction.

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