MRM Research Roundup: End-of-September 2021 Edition

The edition of MRM Research Roundup features what feeds us, drive-thru drama, a Tik Tok survey on restaurants and the best cities for beer. 

The State of What Feeds Us

Bluedot released the fifth installment of the State of What Feeds Us report which has kept tabs on consumer behavior and restaurant habits since the beginning of the health crisis. The findings have offered insight into consumer expectations to support restaurant brands as they work to navigate ongoing operating, social, and economic shifts over the past year and a half. The latest research was based on a survey of 1,508 American consumers.

The new report captures a steady rise in mobile ordering, reinforcing the critical importance of mobile initiatives for restaurant brands. According to the data, consumers deleted restaurant apps if menu items were missing or if there was limited ability to customize orders. The data also points to a broken customer arrival experience. Participants indicated mobile order pickups often involved excessive wait times and flagging down staff.

The report also highlights that consumers favored self-service or digital ordering over ordering from restaurant team members, which for some brands could address the crippling labor shortage facing restaurants throughout the country. The data further signaled that price increases have had a significant impact on consumer restaurant habits. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of participants indicated they have ordered or visited less due to higher prices. 

Intriguingly, it appears fast casual restaurants have started taking back the customers they lost to quick serve restaurants since the pandemic, with consumers visiting fast casual restaurants more often, up to 24 percent from 21 percent in May. Nevertheless, drive-thru visits remain high, at levels that have been broadly consistent since the pandemic.

“Rapidly adapting to pandemic and economic fluxes is a massive challenge for restaurants and the labor shortage compounds the problem. The only sustainable way to address the pain points is to rebalance digital and staffing resources by utilizing mobile strategies to alleviate stress in customer facing interactions while complementing those processes that are labor intensive,” said Judy Chan, Bluedot’s Chief Marketing Officer. “The report continues to signal rising consumer demand for better functionality, ease and convenience. This is an opportunity for brands to eliminate friction across the customer journey, from the moment an order is placed through to the moment a customer picks up their order. For restaurant brands, the digital pivot is imperative to getting the customer experience right.”

Highlights from the report include:

Mobile Apps

  • Mobile orders are on the rise. One-third (35 percent) are placing more orders on restaurant apps compared to three months ago.
  • App downloads remain strong. 59 percent downloaded at least one new restaurant app in the last three months.
  • Customers are likely to spend more when ordering via restaurant apps. Respondents report they are likely to spend more money via mobile apps followed by the drive-thru and in-store. In May, the drive-thru ranked at the top. 
  • Missing menu items are a deal breaker. The top reasons why consumers delete restaurant apps include missing menu items (47 percent), order is cold (45 percent), still having to wait (42 percent), and it doesn’t save time (41 percent).
  • Gaps in menu choices and ability to customize disappoint consumers. The majority (54 percent) state that mobile apps don’t offer a complete list of menu items or customization options.
  • Restaurant apps reign supreme over third-party apps. More than half (57 percent) used mostly or all restaurant apps compared to third-party apps in the last month.
  • Consumers want more mobile apps for local chain restaurants, but the apps must have easy ordering and easy payments. Consumers ranked local chains as their second most desired type of apps and loyalty programs. Must haves for local chain restaurant apps include easy ordering (66 percent), easy payment (61 percent), loyalty/rewards points (52 percent), and coupons and/or deals (52 percent). 

Mobile Order Pickup and the Arrival Experience

  • For mobile pickups, consumers prefer the drive-thru. 39 percent ranked the drive-thru as their top mobile order pickup preference followed by in-store (31 percent) and curbside (30 percent).
  • Drive-thru pickups suffer from multiple customer pain points. 38 percent of customers had to wait in the general drive-thru line when picking up their mobile order while 20 percent had to identify themselves at the speaker box with their name or order number. 12 percent stated that staff couldn’t match their mobile order and 8 percent were asked to pay for an order that wasn’t theirs. 
  •  Consumers are flagging down staff and waiting in line for mobile orders inside restaurants. Of those who suffered from a poor experience upon arrival, 40 percent had to flag down staff to let them know they were picking up their order, 40 percent had to wait in the general order line due to no designated pickup, and 20 percent stated their order was missing from the pickup shelf.
  • Curbside pickup relies on customer initiated interaction. The arrival experience for curbside pickups is still failing. When picking up curbside orders, 41 percent had to locate the app and tap a button on their phone to check-in while 31 percent called or texted upon arrival to notify staff. 12 percent walked to the mobile pickup area while 10 percent had to manually alert staff upon arrival. 
  •  Wait time remains a problem. Top frustrations when picking up orders include: order isn’t ready and having to wait (46 percent), food is ready but still having to wait (44 percent), food is cold (36 percent), order is inaccurate (36 percent), and no designated mobile order pickup line (22 percent).

Inflation and Pricing Concerns

  • ·  Consumers are ordering less. 63 percent of customers are impacted by recent price increases. 32 percent are ordering less at restaurants while 31 percent are visiting less often. 
  • ·  Better prices could yield more app downloads. The vast majority (90 percent) would download and use a restaurant app more often if it meant access to better prices.
  • ·  Convenience holds more value for high income earners. 43 percent of high income earners say convenience is more top of mind than pricing. 


  • Self-service ordering is preferred over ordering from restaurant staff. 43 percent prefer using their mobile phone when placing orders. 17 percent prefer using either their mobile phone or kiosk while 18 percent prefer speaking with a staff member. 


  •  Loyalty programs yield repeat business. Two-thirds (69 percent) stated that loyalty programs incentivize them to revisit a store or restaurant more frequently. 
  • Points and rewards top reasons consumers join loyalty programs. One in two ranked points and/or dollars off for rewards as most important followed by coupons.
  •  Consumers equate loyalty programs with better service. As loyalty members, consumers state they receive personalized deals and coupons (45 percent), orders are available upon arrival (28 percent), they receive better pricing (26 percent), and they’re thanked for being a loyal customer (26 percent).
  • Loyalty programs are most popular for fast food. Consumers are most interested in joining fast food loyalty programs compared to fast casual, local chains, etc. 

Brand Engagement

  • Consumers are snagging deals on social media. 52 percent say social media impacts their app downloads and usage. A quarter (27 percent) use social media to find deals and coupons.
  • Gamification draws consumer engagement. 52 percent would be more likely to interact with a restaurant if the brand was offering a game or contest. 24 percent would download the brand’s app, 23 percent would order from the app, and 19 percent would join the brand’s loyalty program.

Fast Food 

  • Drive-thru visits remain high. 9 out of 10 consumers visited the drive-thru in the past month, remaining consistent with the last report findings in May. 

Fast Casual 

  • Fast casuals are beginning to take back their customers. 43 percent visited mostly or all fast food restaurants compared to fast casuals in the past month, down from 45 percent in May. Visits to fast casual restaurants are increasing with 24 percent visiting mostly or all fast casuals compared to fast food restaurants last month, up from 21 percent in May. One-third visited fast food and fast casual restaurants equally.
  • Uptick in curbside pickups. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) utilized curbside pickups at fast casual restaurants in the past month, an increase from 60 percent in May.
  • Most popular among higher income earners. Consumers who make over $50k (28 percent) visit more fast casual restaurants compared to those who make under $50k (19 percent). 


  •  Social media heavily influences app downloads among Gen Z. The vast majority of Gen Z (71 percent) say social media impacts their app downloads and usage.
  • Gen Z and Millennials download and keep restaurant apps for access to special menu items. Millennials (28 percent) and Gen Z (20 percent) download apps to access special menu items while 35 percent of Gen Z and 32 percent of Millennials keep restaurant apps to access special menu items.
  • Mobile ordering is strongest among Gen Z and Millennials. Gen Z (47 percent) and Millennials (45 percent) are ordering more now from restaurant apps than they were three months ago compared to Gen X (30 percent) and Boomers (14 percent).
  • Gamification attracts Gen Z and Millennials. Gen Z (71 percent) and Millennials (66 percent) are more likely to interact with a brand if there was a game. 32 percent of Gen Z and 31 percent of Millennials would download the app while 30 percent of Gen Z and 33 percent of Millennials would order from the app. 

The fifth State of What Feeds Us report can be found here. Access the firstsecondthird, and fourth reports for additional insights.

Sales Momentum Reversal

August saw a reversal in the upward momentum the restaurant industry’s sales and traffic had been riding in recent months, according to Black Box Guest Intelligence. Amid a rising number of COVID cases and wide media coverage of its Delta variant, sales growth was 6.1 percent during the month, a drop of 2.1 percentage points compared to July’s strong sales growth. This was the softest sales growth reported for any month since May, and the worst traffic growth in the last three months. Traffic growth was -5.4 percent during August.

Guests were marginally more positive about restaurant “food” during August compared to a year ago based on their online reviews and comments. In August of 2020, the percentage of sales from off-premise channels was much higher, which tends to result in lower “food” sentiment scores. So, the small improvement in the percentage of positive mentions in August 2021 despite the easy comparison a year ago highlights the difficulties restaurants are facing regarding food execution due to staffing shortages and supply chain issues. 

Similarly, the percentage of online reviews and comments focused on restaurant “service” remained essentially flat year over year in August. The biggest drop in positive sentiment year over year was related to restaurant “ambiance”. In fact, the last three months have experienced the lowest percentage of “ambiance” positive mentions since the beginning of the year. 

Full- and Limited-Service Restaurants Experienced Different Trade-Offs Between Sales and Sentiment

The downturn in sales experienced by the industry during August did not affect all segments equally. For limited-service brands, it was not a downturn at all. Consequently, the effects on guest sentiment of these shifts in business activity also differed between limited-service restaurants and those in full-service. 

For full-service restaurants, their sales growth rate dropped by 3.8 percentage points compared to July. Less sales and traffic meant less pressure on execution, especially while operating under an environment plagued by staffing shortages. This translated into overall net sentiment for full-service restaurants increasing slightly month over month, driven by a strong improvement in the family dining segment. Sentiment increased across all key topics tracked, but the month-over-month guest sentiment of “food”, “service” and “ambiance” for family dining was particularly strong. 

Casual dining, upscale casual and fine dining guest sentiment held steady for “food” and “service”, but “ambiance” improved. Combined, all segments in full-service improved 2.2 percentage points in their “ambiance” net sentiment scores. Throughout the pandemic, “ambiance” has been a key driver of guest sentiment, given its connection to cleanliness. 

The story was quite different for limited-service brands. When COVID fears escalate, guests tend to shift some of their restaurant spending towards limited-service brands and less towards those in full-service. Limited-service brands experienced an 0.8 percentage point improvement in their sales growth in August compared to July. 

Additional sales and traffic created extra pressures to execution for those in quick service and fast casual. Limited-service restaurants experienced a decrease in guest net sentiment during the month, with the steepest declines coming from fast casual. Not surprisingly, fast casual’s improvement in sales growth during the month was almost triple the improvement posted by quick service. Fast casual had a much tougher challenge keeping up with the added demand. “Service” and “ambiance” had the biggest drops in net sentiment for this segment. Sentiment for quick service was down for nearly all topics as well. 

Regional & Market Performance

Out of the 25 largest markets in the country, Orlando led on positive sentiment based on restaurant “food”, “beverage”, “ambiance”, “value” and “intent to return”. 

On the other end of the spectrum, August was a bad month for restaurants in San Francisco. Based on restaurant sales growth it was the 2nd lowest-ranked among the top 25 biggest markets in the country (the New York DMA had the lowest sales growth in August). Additionally, it also led in the lowest net sentiment based on restaurant “food”, “service” and “intent to return” during the month. 

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

Net sentiment is a value representing the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions for a specific attribute of the restaurant experience.

The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot™ (RGSS) is produced by data from Black Box Guest Intelligence™. Guest Intelligence is tracking over 190 brands to benchmark customer satisfaction 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.

Dine-In Struggle

Despite bad weather and the delta variant spread, consumer online and physical restaurant visits in August continued to recover from last year's steep declines, reports The NPD Group. U.S. restaurant traffic increased by +5 percent over the -10 percent decline in August 2020 and declined by -5 percent compared to the pre-pandemic level in August 2019. Larger average check sizes drove a +13 percent increase in dollars compared to a year ago and a +3 percent gain in dollars over the same month two years ago, according to NPD's daily tracking of the U.S. restaurant industry.

"Overall, the state of the U.S. restaurant industry today reflects the steady-state of the home-centric lifestyle that has us eating more meals at home," says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. "This behavior pre-dates the pandemic and will continue into the foreseeable future. To meet the needs of today's restaurant consumers, restaurant operators need to think about getting meals and snacks into the home." 

Visits to full service restaurants declined by -9 percent this August compared to the same month two years ago and increased by +20 percent versus a -25 percent decrease in August 2019.    

While restaurant visits are improved overall, dine-in or on-premises traffic continues to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels. Dine-in visits were down -34 percent in August compared to August 2019. Off-premises orders, which gained significant ground during the pandemic, represented the majority, 73 percent, of all restaurant visits this August. Of off-premises services, delivery continues its meteoric growth, with orders increasing by +128 percent in August compared to the same month two years ago, and now represents 10 percent of off-premises visits. Carry-out visits, which hold a 49 percent share of off-premises traffic, increased by +6 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. Drive-thru visits rose by +11 percent in August compared to August 2019 and represented 41 percent of off-premises visits in the month. Although digital ordering has grown by triple-digits since the pandemic began, non-digital orders represent the bulk, 85 percent in August, of all restaurant orders, reports NPD. 

Upsized Drive-Thru Problems

Sixty-five percent of Americans who visit quick service restaurants (QSRs) say they have had an unpleasant drive thru experience in the last six months, according to a new survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Xenial.

Asked why they had an unpleasant drive-thru experience in the last six months, 26 percent of those who visit QSRs identified understaffing and 30 percent called out long lines as causes.

Increased pressure on drive thrus — driven by Covid-19 protocols, consumer health concerns and labor shortages — is causing many QSRs to invest in automation. The Xenial/Harris Poll survey suggests customers are receptive to these changes. Nearly half of Americans who visit QSRs (49 percent) say they are willing to eliminate all human interaction when ordering and receiving their fast-food, assuming their orders are received and fulfilled accurately and in a timely fashion. Younger Americans who visit QSRs are more likely than their older counterparts to say this (62 percent for those ages 18-44).

Among those who are willing to eliminate human interaction, the reasons for doing so varied widely. About one in three Americans who visit QSRs (32 percent) said they prefer not to interact with people unless it’s necessary, this reason being more likely among those ages 18-44 than those ages 65+ (37 percent versus 29 percent). Nearly a third of those who visit QSRs, 31 percent, want to avoid human contact for health reasons. More than two in five of those who visit QSRs (42 percent) believe automated systems would be faster than humans. 

“There is a broad base of support for an automated QSR customer experience,” said Chris Siefken, head of technology for Xenial. “Ongoing labor shortages and consumer appetite for the drive thru are putting enormous stress on restaurants, and new technologies can help alleviate pressure points and free up workers to fulfill orders accurately and quickly.”

Nearly one in five (19 percent) of those who are willing to eliminate human interaction said they would be willing to do so because they believe automated systems would be more friendly than humans. Among those who had a negative drive-thru experience, 36 percent listed the poor attitude or behavior of drive thru staff as reasons.

“Labor shortages are highlighting the fact that automation isn’t necessarily about replacing existing workers,” Siefken added. “It’s about making quick service restaurant jobs easier so existing workers have the bandwidth to provide excellent customer service at those points where people are needed. Automation can improve the overall employee experience, which can lead to better retention.”

Asked what purchase channel they most often utilize when visiting a QSR, 55 percent of those who visit QSRs chose the drive thru, 18 percent identified in-restaurant takeout, 19 percent selected in-restaurant dining and eight percent chose curbside pickup.

2021 close to reaching 2019 sales levels in the On Premise, latest OPM (On Premise Measurement) data from CGA reveals

On-Premise Report

CGA’s analysis reveals how the market has recovered in 2021 compared to the levels reached in 2019, despite concerns surrounding the Delta variant in recent months.

It’s not news that 2020 was a volatile and challenging year for the On Premise, and with many openings and closings, sales suffered in comparison to previous years. However, 2021 has told a different story for the On Premise, still with its challenges, but on a steady road to recovery. Using our On Premise Measurement service (OPM) CGA have analysed how 2020 differed to 2019 and how 2021 has recovered compared to the levels of 2019, especially considering the rise of the Delta variant in recent months.

Looking at January 2020 pre-COVID-19 volume sales, across the mega categories it looked like 2020 was going to be a higher performing year for the On Premise versus the previous year, with beer up 1 percent vs January 2019, wine flat and spirits up 2 percent.

By April of 2020, at the height of restrictions and lockdown, the On Premise was at its lowest point. Sales in the On Premise were almost non-existent in April; beer sales were just 6 percent of those in 2019, Wine sales were 12 percent and Spirits were 2 percent of that of the previous year. This was a month like never before in the On Premise.

A year on tells a completely different story. Comparing April 2021 vs 2019 it is clear that recovery had returned to the On Premise. This is evident through the proportion of sales; beer sales were 84 percent of 2019, wine sales were 84 percent of 2019 and spirits sales were 82 percent of 2019. This is in line with the level of closures in the market, as a number of outlets unfortunately had shut, so the universe for potential sales had decreased.

Looking forward to July 2021 stability was very much present compared to July 2019; beer sales were equivalent to 91 percent of July 2019 sales, wine was 88 percent and spirits 91 percent. This paints a positive picture for the future of the On Premise as consumers have returned and an increase in a higher percentage of sales of 2019 vs previous months would indicate they will continue to do so.

While the rise in the Delta variant has raised concern for the next few months, the data indicates that the On Premise has evolved in comparison to last year. As tracked in our consumer Impact Study every four weeks, most consumers feel comfortable in the measures bars and restaurants are taking to ensure a safe experience. Operators are also more experienced and prepared in comparison to last year when the channel was turned upside down. The focus is on leaning in and understanding on a state by state level, who’s visiting where and drinking what, to ensure that your strategy is local enough to focus on the future while adapting to changing conditions.

Patrick Bannon, CGA Client Director, Americas, said: “Across all three categories it is apparent that the market is getting back to what it was. While there have been some fluctuations it appears that consumers have returned to the On Premise, which is consistent with our research. The next couple of months will be hugely important in understanding what is happening at a state level, particularly with some states implementing changes. As strategies need to be tailored to different market conditions, we at CGA will look to support our suppliers navigating these conditions with our four weekly impact reports as well as our suite of measurement services.”

The COVID-19 On Premise Impact Report is a consumer research report tracking and reflecting on how consumers currently feel about returning to the On Premise, what other states can expect as they reopen fully and how the On Premise can position its offering to encourage more visits. The latest On Premise Impact Report by CGA, along with other special reports issued over the past several weeks, can be found here.

Travel for Fast Food Faves

Gravy Analytics has new data that reveals the distances people travel to get their favorite fast food in 2021 versus 2019. The foot-traffic data shows that Chick-Fil-A fans are the most dedicated of all the fast-food chains, traveling a median 13.43 miles to get their food in Q2 2021, almost double the distance of the next most popular fast-food chain. 

Here’s the median distance people are traveling to other popular fast-food chains, rounding out the top 10 list:

  • Dunkin Donuts – 7.86 miles
  • Panera Bread – 7.84 miles
  • Subway – 7.81 miles
  • Wendy’s – 7.69 miles
  • Starbucks – 7.33 miles
  • Chipotle – 7.3 miles
  • Sonic Drive Thru – 7.28 miles
  • Taco Bell – 6.93 miles
  • McDonald’s – 6.49 miles

Pizza Hut (5.68 miles), KFC (6.21 miles) and Burger King (6.23 miles) are comparatively less of a draw when measured by median distance traveled to get to a restaurant. 

The median distance traveled has decreased between Q2 2019 and the same period in 2021 for all fast-food brands, although Chick-Fil-A’s decreased by 32 percent, which is quite a bit less than other brands. Between 2019 and 2021, the median distance traveled decreased the most at Chipotle (49 percent), Panera (49 percent), and Starbucks (48 percent). We might assume this has to do with fewer work commutes during the pandemic, resulting in fewer coffee pickups and lunches out away from Americans’ hometowns.

POS Marketing Trends

Crayon released a report analyzing marketing activity for POS companies in 2021, "Who Has Led the Conversation In the Restaurant POS Software Industry?” While many interesting takeaways were discovered, one particular piece of intel stood out:  

Throughout 2021, the top industry leader, Square, has been talking about restaurants less and less often. Despite having the highest volume of marketing activity across all companies (Toast, Revel Systems, TouchBistro, and Upserve), Square, didn't mention "restaurants" once during various timeframes and most recently in late July.   

This shift in direction is significant and opens up new opportunities for the other companies to go to market with a high volume of restaurant-related messaging and lead the conversation.

The full report is here.

Tik Tok on Restaurants

MGH, released the results of a national TikTok survey about restaurants, which found that 36 percent of TikTok users have visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing that restaurant on the platform. Additionally, 65 percent of TikTok content creators have visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing videos posted on TikTok. The survey further examined what exactly inspires visits to new restaurants, and whether or not users would be influenced to travel to or visit a new restaurant based on viewed content.

Videos showing food are the key drivers

For these TikTok’ers, the food matters, serving as the key driver behind why people visit or order food from restaurants after seeing TikTok restaurant content. Of the surveyed users, 55 percent said they wanted to visit the restaurant because the food looked appetizing, and 51 percent wanted to because the video showed a unique food item.

“As TikTok continues to grow in popularity, many restaurant marketers have been left wondering if the platform is worth the investment. The results of our survey show it is,” said Ryan Goff, EVP, Social Media Marketing Director at MGH. “Often restaurants and other businesses are hesitant to invest in new platforms, but the increasing popularity and breadth of users – coupled with direct feedback from users – demonstrate the power of TikTok and should encourage restaurant owners to add this platform to their marketing mix.”

Other notable TikTok restaurant stats include:

More than 45 percent of surveyed TikTok users also said they would be interested in visiting a restaurant in a different state based on a TikTok video, with 35 percent saying they have already done so;

38 percent of users surveyed said they wanted to visit a restaurant they saw on TikTok because the video showed a cool atmosphere;

36 percent said they wanted to visit the restaurant because the TikTok video showed a cool way of serving food or beverages; and

Nearly 30 percent cited a great view as the driver for their interest in visiting.

For more insights on our survey,  click here

Restaurant Rent Problems

Alignable’s September Rent Report is out and shows that the Small Business Recovery Reversal reported in the company’s recent Road to Recovery Report is evidenced, once again, by an increase in small businesses unable to afford their full rent.

In September, 35 percent of small businesses in the U.S. (up 5 percent) and 38 percent in Canada (up 6 percent), couldn’t pay their rent. Many cited the surge in Delta variant cases, as a leading reason for the issue, along with skyrocketing inflation, and an ongoing labor shortage. 

For restaurants and other industries that require in-person contact, the rates of rent problems were particularly severe in September. For the first time in six months, the majority of restaurant owners (51 percent) couldn’t pay their full rent (up 6 percent).

Percentages also increased for massage therapists (48 percent, up 26 percent), beauty salons (46 percent, up 5 percent), construction company owners (42 percent, up 11 percent), retailers (40 percent, up 3 percent) and gyms(38 percent, up 5 percent).

The state with the highest rate of SMB rent delinquency is now Michigan (43 percent). In Canada, the province citing the highest rate of rent challenges is British Columbia (50 percent).

And we learned that 80 percent of renters responding to the poll also said they’ve received no help from landlords, in terms of rent reductions, delays, or other even assistance in applying for PPP loans.

To see the full report, go here


BeverageTrak data from CGA’s COVID-19 On Premise Impact Report. CGA’s latest sales data reveals On Premise velocity in outlets currently trading is +39 percent higher than the same time last year in the week to September 18 and +13 percent against the equivalent week in 2019. 

Total U.S. 

Average outlet sales (velocity) trends have been generally positive in recent weeks following declines in August.

These recent trends are mirroring 2019 suggesting that the country is back to experiencing normal seasonal trends.

All key states experienced growth on Sunday September 5 and Monday September 6 as people celebrated Labor Day, with corresponding reductions in weekly velocity the following week. Despite this, generally positive trends over the rest of the week resulted in a flat week overall to September 18


Florida experienced growth of +6 percent in the week to September 11, driven by strong performance in the key cities of Orlando (+12 percent), Tampa (+9 percent) and Miami (+6 percent). Despite being negative in the latest week, the state continues to perform well vs last year (+33 percent) and 2019 (+18 percent). 

Sales velocity is now +18 percent vs September 21, 2019

Sales velocity is now +33 percent year-over-year (comparing the same week one year prior)

Sales velocity is now -3 percent vs September 11, 2021


After five weeks of slightly negative trends, Illinois has been positive in the latest two weeks, with +5 percent growth in the week to September 18. Although the state is slightly behind 2019 velocity, it is still +48 percent above 2020 levels

Sales velocity is now -8 percent vs September 21, 2019

Sales velocity is now +48 percent year-over-year (comparing the same week one year prior)

Sales velocity is now +5 percent vs September 11, 2021


California has shown mixed performances over recent weeks, with +3 percent in the week to September 11 followed by -2 percent in the latest week, with varied performance across key cities and only Los Angeles experiencing growth (+3 percent) in the latest week

Sales velocity is now +17 percent vs September 21, 2019

Sales velocity is now +52 percent year-over-year (comparing the same week one year prior)

Sales velocity is now -2 percent vs September 11, 2021

New York

Following reductions in velocity due to recent flooding, New York has bounced back with growth of +6 percent and +7 percent in the last two weeks, driven by double-digit growth in NYC (+13 percent and +19 percent respectively). The state has recovered to have a very similar velocity to 2019 (-1 percent), and is the best performing key state vs last year.

Sales velocity is now -1 percent vs September 21, 2019

Sales velocity is now +64 percent year-over-year (comparing the same week one year prior)

Sales velocity is now +7 percent vs September 11, 2021


Whilst key city performance in Texas has been variable, trends have evened out for the state as a whole, with +1 percent and -1 percent in the latest two weeks. It is currently the best performing of the key states vs 2019 (+27 percent).

Sales velocity is now +27 percent vs September 21, 2019

Sales velocity is now +27 percent year-over-year (comparing the same week one year prior)

Sales velocity is now -1 percent vs September 11, 2021

Matthew Crompton, CGA Client Solutions Director, Americas, said: “After a well-documented slowdown in August, average sales velocity trends have been positive over the last two weeks, with these recent trends of slowing growth mirroring 2019 trends. This could suggest the channel is beginning to experience something approaching normal seasonal trends, however it’s now more important than ever to understand performance on a state by state level, given the differing week-on-week trends we can see across the key states.”

Drive-Thru Performance

SeeLevel HX unveiled its highly anticipated 2021 SeeLevel HX Annual Drive-Thru Study today marking the 21st year of the industry benchmark report and the second year it has been issued independently. The research captures year-over-year drive-thru performance and compares the consumer experience at quick service restaurant brands in multiple categories including speed, order accuracy, taste, and service. Ten major brands and 1,492 drive-thru visits were included in the study conducted by the mystery shopping market research agency.

Reflecting the major staffing shortages impeding restaurants this year, the report revealed the average Total Time required to receive an order increased by 25.59 seconds from 356.80 in 2020 to 382.39 in 2021. Total Time refers to the moment a customer enters the drive-thru line to the moment they receive their order. 

“QSRs are facing enormous pressure as the pandemic lingers and brands are forced to navigate through a tight labor market, supply chain challenges, and inflation. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising to see delays and an increase in inaccurate orders,” said Lisa van Kesteren, SeeLevel HX CEO. “With so many obstacles, it’s easy to lose sight of the customer experience, but that comes with big risks including damage to the brand and a decrease in customer loyalty. To prevent brand vulnerability, restaurants would be better served by compromising in some areas in order to consistently deliver a rewarding drive-thru experience. We’re already seeing this with the top QSRs limiting indoor dining and reducing store hours.”

Indoor dining was unavailable at 13 percent of the QSR locations visited. Less surprisingly, the study indicated a major drop in staff wearing masks from 91 percent in 2020 to 54 percent in 2021. Friendliness among staff members dipped to 73 percent this year, down from 76 percent in 2020 and 79 percent in 2019. 

Inaccurate orders increased from 13 percent in 2020 to 15 percent in 2021. Interestingly, inaccurate orders took 71.06 seconds longer in Total Time to receive than accurate orders. Drive-thrus with order confirmation boards (OCBs) were 34 seconds faster in Total Time, up from 28 seconds in 2020. Highlights also included winners in two categories, taste and accuracy. 

Additional findings include:

  • Inaccurate orders cost QSRs valuable time
  • Order accuracy declined this year to 85 percent, up from a high of 87 percent in 2019. 
  • Inaccurate orders take more time on average. Accurate orders are received a full 71.06 seconds faster.
  • Inaccurate orders by brand ranged from 6 percent to as high as 21 percent.
  • Order confirmation boards sped up Total Times
  • OCBs improved the overall Total Time by 34 seconds on average.
  • Drive-thrus with OCBs were 6 seconds faster in 2021 than drive-thrus with OCBs in 2020.
  • Number of drive-thrus with suggestive sells jumped 
  • Four out of ten drive-thrus had a suggestive sell in 2021. The top upsells included combo meals, upsize combos, and larger drink sizes.
  • In 2020, 72 percent of drive-thrus did not have a suggestive sell compared to 61 percent in 2021.

Safety precautions loosened

Only 54 percent of staff were wearing masks at the payment and pickup windows, down from 91 percent in 2020. The vast majority of orders (97.5 percent) were handed directly to customers, up from 80 percent in 2020.The free report is available here. For more detailed findings including wait and service times, the full report is available for pay.

The Price of Michelin-Starred Restaurants

Dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant is on the bucket list of every respectable foodie out there, but it can come at a price. Chef’s Pencil decided to find out the places where it is least and most expensive to eat at a top-rated Michelin restaurant (read two and three-starred restaurants).

To do that, they researched the menus of 450 restaurants that have earned two or three Michelin stars. From the menu, we researched the prices for the top tasting menu. The top tasting menu is usually an 8-12 course served at dinner. Please see below the key takeaways:

  • On average, the full tasting menu costs $252 (215 euros) for two-starred restaurants and a whopping $357 (304 euros) for three-starred restaurants.
  • Denmark ($404) is hands down the most expensive country to dine out at a top Michelin-starred restaurant. It is followed by Singapore ($364), Sweden ($327), Japan ($322) and the U.S. ($313).
  • Thailand is the most affordable country in our rankings, where the top-priced tasting menu costs on average $173, followed by Ireland ($212), South Korea ($213), Taiwan ($213), Portugal and Spain.
  • Copenhagen ($448) is the most expensive city, followed by Shanghai ($406), and Kyoto ($401). New York ($309) ranks 9th, Washington D.C. ($306) 11th, San Francisco ($291) 15th and Chicago ($290) 16th.
  • Bangkok is the most affordable city, followed by Lyon, Seoul, Rotterdam and Barcelona.

They also ranked the countries with the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita, with Japan coming in first, followed by Luxembourg and Switzerland.

For the full report, click here.

Social Media Brand Engagement

Mitto revealed brand-consumer social media messaging is on the rise, according to survey research into the ways that U.S. consumers use social media apps to interact with brands. 70 percent have increased their overall social media use since the COVID-19 pandemic began, with 58 percent reporting their messaging with brands via social media has also increased. 

The survey found that 87 percent now use social media apps to message with brands and it’s driving their purchasing decisions, with 55 percent reporting a brand’s social media messaging influenced a purchase via the website, 39 percent in store and 42 percent via the social media app.

“There are so many communications channels available and brands are being stretched to adapt their messaging strategy to meet consumers where they’re at,” said Andrea Giacomini, CEO of Mitto. “With social media usage up since the beginning of the pandemic, it is no surprise that consumers are now turning to social media more to message with brands, and those brands that evolve their digital customer experiences to include social media messaging will reap the benefits of effective customer engagement.”

People are using social media as a way to get help and answers from brands over other communications channels. 77 percent have used social media to contact a brand’s customer support with 79 percent reporting a positive experience. Further, 58 percent mentioned they prefer that brands use social media to communicate versus other methods, such as email, call or text. Providing some insight into that preference, respondents noted they enjoy that social media messaging is convenient (72 percent), fast (61 percent) and personalized (50 percent). 

The types of messaging consumers would like to see from brands via social media include promo codes (70 percent), sales (61 percent), customer support (54 percent) and order updates (52 percent).

When it comes to social media app preference, 78 percent reported using Facebook regularly to message with brands, followed by Instagram (57 percent) and Twitter (45 percent). Looking at which social media apps consumers prefer for different verticals, Facebook remained the top app of choice, with: 

68 percent for messaging retail/e-commerce, 

55 percent for finance/banking, 

61 percent for travel, 

61 percent for food/delivery service and 58 percent for gaming.

The research also revealed opportunities for brands to continue to improve social media messaging experiences. These include greater personalization (43 percent agree) speeding up response times (42 percent agree). The survey also found certain industries – especially finance and banking – must clearly communicate how they will ensure social media messaging remains a secure channel of communication as this is currently holding almost half (45 percent) of Americans back from using social media messaging with finance/banking brands.

Pandemic Shopping Habits

Consumer shopping habits changed during the pandemic, but only temporarily, according to a new study by ICSC and, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Shopping Patterns from 2019-2021”. The findings explore consumer foot traffic, shifts in day and time consumers shopped, length of stay and basket size over the past two years.

The study found that while foot traffic fell off significantly last year, mostly due to government mandated closures of non-essential retailers, it has returned to pre-pandemic levels for grocery anchored open-air centers and near pre-pandemic levels for malls. Although shoppers decreased their frequency of visits to marketplaces, they were more purposeful and spent more money each trip. Basket sizes increased during the first two quarters of 2021 as compared to those in 2019, with malls seeing an $87.40 increase and grocery-anchored centers a $111.05 increase.

“These numbers are not only encouraging but reinforce the importance of physical retail to consumers. Retailers quickly adjusted to an increase in demand for online shopping, but it is evident from the data that the consumer is back and reconnecting with their prior shopping and spending patterns.” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of ICSC. “Clearly physical retail isn’t going away, but the most effective retailers have figured out how to leverage online and use their stores as consumer hubs whereby providing options for shoppers.”

As the recovery period began in March 2021, ICSC consumer survey data reported that 48 percent of adults said they expect their adopted pandemic behaviors to fade rather quickly as the COVID-19 health crisis improves. Foot traffic levels are rebounding as we move through 2021. In Q2, foot traffic for malls was down only 11 percent and 5 percent for grocery-anchored centers compared to 2019. In July, for the first time in 2021, foot traffic surpassed 2019 levels at indoor malls (+0.9 percent) and grocery-anchored centers (+ 1.8 percent), nationally.

"The pandemic's early effects on retail were so significant that many questioned what the future of brick-and-mortar retail would look like and whether it could maintain its current level of importance. Yet, in recent months, the retail recovery has shown that consumer demand has remained resilient, and that the future of brick-and-mortar retail could be even brighter than its recent past,” stated Noam Ben-Zvi, Co-founder and CEO, “A changing landscape is creating opportunities for those willing to embrace new approaches to tenant mix, the role of stores in omnichannel retail and the evolving demands on shopping centers themselves. Data is playing a significant role in helping to minimize risk and maximize the chances of success in this unique environment."

The data shows that the Marketplaces industry has not fully recovered from the impacts of the pandemic, but the data also reveals that a significant rebound and return to prior shopping and spending behaviors is underway. Despite the shift to online shopping, marketplaces and physical retail spaces will remain an essential part of the consumer shopping journey, serving to enhance the overall omnichannel shopping experience.

Best and Worst Cities for Beer Lovers

Lawn Love ranked 180 of the largest U.S. cities to find 2021’s Best Cities for Beer Lovers. We looked for cities with plenty of breweries, award-winning beers, cheap pints, beer-centered festivals, and a big beer-loving community.

See which 10 cities raise the bar with their brews (and the 10 that made us growl) below, followed by surprising findings from the report.


2021’s Best Cities for Beer Lovers




Spokane, WA


Portland, OR


Denver, CO


Seattle, WA


Cincinnati, OH


Salt Lake City, UT


Boston, MA


Pittsburgh, PA


Fort Lauderdale, FL


Fort Collins, CO


2021’s Worst Cities for Beer Lovers




Virginia Beach, VA


Bakersfield, CA


Fontana, CA


Scottsdale, AZ


Chesapeake, VA


Laredo, TX


Plano, TX


Kansas City, KS


Columbus, GA


San Bernardino, CA