Restaurants staged nimble responses to Covid’s blows in 2020, but 6 years of growth were wiped away

More than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments closed last year, either temporarily or for good, and 2.5 million restaurant industry jobs disappeared, according to a new report that tallies the devastating toll of the pandemic.

“If one looks at the industry in terms of actual sales volume level at the end of 2020, it was down at 2014 levels. In other words, the industry has been set back six years of sales growth,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president research at the National Restaurant Association, as the trade group releases its annual look at the state of industry.

The report, which surveyed 6,000 operators and 1,000 adults, said restaurant and food-service sales came in at $659 billion last year — that’s $240 billion lower than its pre-pandemic projections for the year of $899 billion in total sales.

“2020 was certainly the worst year for the restaurant industry in its history,” said Riehle.