The National Restaurant Association, which is lobbying for a federal coronavirus relief package, is publicizing the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant business.

Based on a recent survey of 3,500 restaurants nationally, the association produced these estimates on the impact in Arkansas, released by the Arkansas Hospitality Association:

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  • Consumer spending in restaurants remained well below normal levels in August. Eighty-five percent of Arkansas restaurant operators say their total dollar sales volume in August was lower than it was in August 2019. Overall, sales were down 34 percent on average.

  • Even though sales were significantly lower for most restaurants, it doesn’t mean their costs also fell proportionally. Fifty-five percent of Arkansas operators say their restaurant’s total operational costs (as a percent of sales) are higher than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 29 percent of operators say their costs are lower, as a percent of sales.

  • With on-premises dining capacity limited, off-premises is increasingly important for restaurants. Seventy-three percent of operators say off-premises sales currently represents a higher proportion of their total business than it did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • Thirty percent of Arkansas operators say business conditions in August were worse than they were in July, while only 18 percent say business conditions improved in August.

  • Fifty-five percent of Arkansas operators say they don’t expect their restaurant’s sales to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months.

  • Forty-one percent of Arkansas operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, if business conditions continue at current levels.

  • Forty-one percent of operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.

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  • Although many restaurants added back employees as restrictions were partially lifted in recent months, overall staffing levels remain well below normal. On average, Arkansas restaurant operators say their current staffing levels are only 70 percent of what they would typically be in the absence of COVID-19.

  • In the weeks following the initial rehiring surge that occurred in May and June, restaurant staffing trends were mixed. Fifty-four percent of restaurant operators say they added employees in July and August, while 11 percent say they laid off or furloughed employees in July and August.

  • Forty-five percent of Arkansas restaurant operators say they plan to add more employees during the next 30 days, while 11 percent say they anticipate laying off or furloughing more employees during the next 30 days.

  • Overall, 38 percent of Arkansas restaurant operators do not expect their staffing levels to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months.

Governor Hutchinson moved more quickly than leaders of some states in reopening bars and restaurants and has continued to resist a rollback of the looser guidelines despite the state’s continuing growth of COVID-19 cases. He’s stressed the economic benefits.

A problem remains. You can open restaurants, but that won’t necessarily make a virus-fearful customer eat out.

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