In a new survey, the National Restaurant Association concludes Wisconsin restaurants are still struggling amid the pandemic, and believe it may take upwards of a year before business conditions return to normal.
The association surveyed 3,000 restaurant operators nationwide, including in Wisconsin, from Feb. 2-10. The National Restaurant Association is a trade association that represents more than 380,000 restaurant locations across the U.S.
For January, consumer spending in the state remained "well below" pre-pandemic levels, with 83 percent of restaurants surveyed in Wisconsin saying their revenue that month was lower than it was during January of 2020, according to the study.
A further 69 percent of restaurants in Wisconsin say their sales off-premise have made up less than 30 percent of their lost on-premise sales, the association found.
Only 12 percent of Wisconsin restaurants expect their sales in February and March to be higher than in January. 50 percent of operators said they believe their sales will decline in February and March from January's levels, the study states.
The future, at least in the short-term, does not seem especially bright to the Wisconsin operators surveyed. 33 percent of them think it will be 7-12 months before business conditions return to normal, while 29 percent think it will be more than a year. A further 12 percent of operators said they believe business conditions will never return to normal for their restaurant.
Donald Lee, owner of "Big Daddy's BBQ" in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood, agrees. Lee says people have to think restaurants are safe.
"People are going to have to trust again because a lot of people don’t want to come in. It’s still here [COVID] and you hear about other viruses coming and a lot of people are scared," he says.
In terms of jobs, deteriorating business conditions led to more job losses in recent weeks, the study found. 29 percent of Wisconsin operators said they laid off or furloughed employees in December of 2020 and January of 2021.
Most operators do not plan on expanding payrolls in the near term, the study states, with only 8 percent of Wisconsin operators expecting their restaurant’s staffing levels to be higher in February and March than they were in January.