Survey finds ‘devastating impact’ of COVID-19 pandemic on restaurants in Wisconsin, nationwide


UNITED STATES – A nationwide survey of 6,500 restaurant owners and operators taken from April 10 to April 16, 2020, by the National Restaurant Association found “stark” results, both for Wisconsin and the United States, the Association said.

The survey, part of the Association’s “ongoing assessment to provide data-driven updates on the state of the restaurant industry,” found that, on average, restaurant operators reported a 70% decline in sales during the period from April 1 to April 10. Based on those results, the Association estimated that the Wisconsin restaurant and foodservice industry would lose more than $630 million in sales in April, if the trends continued through the end of the month.

Wisconsin results

According to the survey, 84% of Wisconsin restaurant operators said they had laid off or furloughed employees since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March. 9% of operators anticipated laying off or furloughing additional employees within the following 30 days. Among restaurant operators that laid off or furloughed employees, the average reduction was 81% of the restaurant’s total staff.

The Association estimated that, based on the results of the survey, more than 136,000 restaurant employees in Wisconsin had been laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, representing at least 68% of the 199,900 employees who were working at Wisconsin’s eating and drinking places in February.

97% of Wisconsin restaurant operators said their total dollar sales volume during the period from April 1 to April 10 was lower than it was during the same period in 2019.

61% of Wisconsin operators said they continued operating, but for off-premises traffic only, and 59% anticipated operating for off-premises traffic during the following 30 days.

“We have been hearing from restaurant operators that the COVID-19 crisis has been devastating to their businesses, but the numbers really drive it home,” said Kristine Hillmer, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. “It is critical that the state has a solid plan to safely reopen the state as soon as possible.”

National results

The survey’s national results reflected the dire statistics found in Wisconsin.

Eight million restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed nationwide, according to the survey’s results, representing two out of every three restaurant jobs.

In March, the restaurant/foodservice industry lost $30 billion in revenue and was on track to lose an additional $50 billion by the end of April. Four in ten restaurants have closed their doors, some with no hope of reopening.

Over 60% of restaurant owners said that existing federal relief programs – including the CARES Act – would not enable them to keep their employees on payroll throughout the downturn.

“Assuming a gradual reopening of the economy in June 2020, we forecast sustained losses of $240 billion for restaurants by the end of the year,” the Association stated.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association is one of the largest trade associations in the state, with over 7,000 member locations throughout Wisconsin. The mission of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is dedicated to the success of the Foodservice and Hospitality Industry. The Association advocates on behalf of the restaurant industry, provides a voice for the restaurant industry to consumers and the media and provides access to information and services to help members better run their businesses. WRA represents the entire foodservice industry which includes over 16,000 licensed food service establishments.

WRA membership includes a wide range of foodservice businesses representing virtually every size and style of restaurant in the state. Members include fine dining establishments, mom-and-pop supper clubs, small cafes, quick service restaurants, corporate chain restaurants, institutional food service operations, catering businesses and hotel and motel foodservice among others.

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