Back to ‘Normal:’ How Vaccine Rollouts Will Impact Quick-Service Traffic

Traditional restaurants have suffered tremendously during COVID-19. The quick-service segment, however, has managed to survive and, in some cases, thrive during the pandemic.

Menu changes, drive-thru options, delivery and other innovations have allowed some quick-service restaurant chains to increase same-store sales. Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, KFC, Popeyes and Taco Bell were among the better performers of 2020. These results came despite a roughly 40 percent decline in foot traffic last year, according to Gravy Analytics. 

Pent-up demand for normalcy

Questions being asked by all retailers, including quick-serves, include: when will “normal” return and what does that look like? We don’t fully understand yet, but vaccines are a big part of the answer.

The Center for Disease Control reports that roughly 20 million Americans have been vaccinated to date. There are various predictions about whether something that looks more like normal will happen by summer or early fall, or a year from now. To some degree, it depends on the ongoing efficiency of the vaccine rollouts.

Multiple surveys over the past six months have asked consumers whether they intend to return to stores after being vaccinated. A simple majority say “yes.” The remainder express a more cautious, wait-and-see approach. But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of pent-up demand for a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, so actual behavior could be more favorable for retailers.

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