During the month of March 2020, we posted results of the Mirus Index on social media to keep restaurant operators informed on what is happening at an industry level. This article is intended to be a diary of observations related to how COVID-19 is changing the restaurant world from our perspective. We will update this every few days during this pandemic to keep multi-unit restaurant operators informed of the bigger picture.
According to the Mirus Index, January closed with the best sales and traffic performance since 2015. Traffic, in particular, has been an industry problem for most of the last 5 years.
Mirus is happy to report that our clients, as measured by the Mirus Index each day, are outperforming both the industry averages, and the government's numbers in the 3rd quarter.
2019 is a pretty good year, so far. But, according to Black Box Intelligence's latest report on sales and traffic, both were negative for July (-1% and -4%, respectively). Both were also negative, albeit marginally, in June (-0.01% and -3.1%, respectively).
On The Rise
Discounting in restaurants is on the rise, as measured by Mirus Index, and is about 30% higher than a year ago. Examining this trend, it looks like discounting started climbing in 2015 but was up and down until mid-2016. Since then the trend has been a steady increase in discounting, except for the traditional holiday spike in November and December.
The strategy of discounting is often debated among industry experts with some saying it is always a bad idea while others taking a more nuanced position that says discounting can be useful to achieve goals in specific situations.
We had noticed that Average Check has been increasing as well as Discounts. If you overlay the trend for Average Check against the Discount trend, you see that while discounts have gone up about 50% since the start of 2017, so has the Average Check, about 25%. Could the increase in discounts be related to the strategy of increasing prices?
The start of a new year means many people are focusing on getting in better shape. You may even be offering some healthier choices on your menu to meet the consumer mindset. Why do so many people vow to eat better in the new year? No doubt losing weight gives you more energy and confidence. As a restaurant executive getting your restaurant data into better shape can have the same effects on your business. Learn why you should resolve to whip your data into shape and how to successfully do it.
What do you think will be the most popular restaurant business trends for 2019? I recently had the privilege to sit down with FSR Magazine to briefly discuss this topic.
We discuss four prevailing predictions:
Is Food Delievery Right For Your Restaurant Business?
No topic is hotter in the restaurant space than delivery today. An amazing shift is taking place where customers want their favorite food, and not just pizza, delivered wherever and whenever. For me, delivery became a new reality and not just a fad when I saw McDonald's advertising during the recent World Cup matches that they would now be delivering food. This was no longer a test in a few US markets but now ready for prime time by a heavy hitter in the QSR realm.
There are people projecting that delivery will do to restaurants what Amazon did to retail. I think it is too early to tell for sure, and caution is wise. Nonetheless, I am seeing many restaurant companies testing delivery in select markets and many more are discussing it. However, before you make the decision to plunge into this new channel, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
Whose Customer Is It?
How are your customers going to request a delivery? Will you hire your own drivers and create your own e-commerce website, or will you use a third-party delivery service? The first option will take more time and money before you can start comparing to a 3rd party option. But, which alternative do your customers prefer?
Examples of restaurants who have built their own platforms include Panera and Domino's, and both efforts are considered successful, albeit expensive. It's simple, the customer goes to the brand website and orders. An upside to this approach is your customer sees only what you want them to see and their experience is directly connected to your brand. Another plus for this option is the ability to add other programs and services beyond ordering, such as loyalty and payment.
As we head towards the end of the second quarter, it appears that restaurant sales are moving in a positive direction. Unless something dramatic occurs in the next two weeks, June will finish the first half of the year with 5 months of positive sales growth - only February has been negative this year. The current year to date Same Store Sales, as measured by the Mirus Index, is up 0.62%. Not huge, but at least positive, and the trend is improving. Same Store Sales for Q2 is up 0.82% so far and is up 1.8% for the first twelve days in June.
December continues to look like an important month for the restaurant industry. After years of poor or lackluster results overall, the first half of December has delivered positive same store sales and traffic, according to the Mirus Index.
Much has been written over the past two years about the dismal pattern of same store sales and traffic for restaurants. Traffic has been negative throughout this period, and sales have rarely been positive, and then only when restaurants increase prices.