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Pandemic Food Away From Home Spending Varied

Data from USDA’s Economic Research Service shows food away from home spending varied during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, spending at full-service restaurants declined 71 percent compared with April 2019.

Spending at fast-food restaurants fell 32 percent, and spending at all other food-away-from-home establishments dropped 41 percent over the same period. Full-service restaurants typically offer food and alcohol to seated customers, which was hard to provide during the pandemic. However, the limited physical interaction with customers made it easier for fast-food establishments to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, and by the second half of 2020, they managed to recover to pre-pandemic spending levels.

Despite efforts by many full-service restaurants to expand takeout and delivery services, these outlets took slightly longer to bounce back, and returned to pre-pandemic spending in March 2021. By December 2021, both full-service and limited-service restaurant spending had fully recovered and were each about 10 percent higher than in December 2019.

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