Higher-end chains are beating out more casual ones as people return to restaurants

Higher-end chains are beating out more casual ones as people return to restaurants
Irene Jiang / Business Insider
  • High-end restaurant chains are recovering more quickly than casual chains.
  • Longhorn Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse, and similar chains are well above 2019 foot traffic levels.
  • All kinds of experiences people missed during the past year are coming back.

Restaurant sales are recovering, and higher-end chains are having some of the best recoveries of all.

Based on foot traffic analysis from Placer.ai, pricier and less casual chains are recovering fastest. Darden Restaurant's chains are doing particularly well compared to the same period in 2019. Darden is the parent company of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and a few other chains.

Longhorn Steakhouse visits were above 2019 levels in April, May, and June, growing each month to an 18.9% increase in June. Capital Grille, which is also owned by Darden, was up 19.8% over 2019 visits in June after being behind in April and modest gains in May. Eddie V's Prime Seafood saw the largest increase over 2019 levels at 28.5% in June.

The trend among the top-performing restaurants shows a huge jump in recovery this summer. Of the eight top restaurants monitored by Placer.ai, seven saw increases over the previous month in May and June. The only exception was Texas Roadhouse, which had nearly similar gains in each of the three months.

More casual chains, especially diners, are recovering much more slowly. Denny's, IHOP, and Applebee's were all still below 2019 levels into June.


Restaurant dining is officially back as vaccination rates increase and people begin feeling safe going out again, and other industries are profiting, too. Spending on restaurants, bars, clothing, and transportation are all up as people return to plans that were on hold for over a year.

Intuitively, the trend makes sense for dining. The pandemic was great for fast-food sales, which customers turned to for comfort in a challenging time, and these chains were already equipped with drive-thrus and takeout orders. Now, people are flocking back to the experiences that they couldn't get during that period, like full-service dining.

The trend toward experiences and food exists at the very top of the industry, too. Two of the most expensive fine dining restaurants in the US both raised prices to nearly unheard of rates, $800 for a tasting and about $2,000 for dinner for two. Seats are booked up for over a month.

It's unclear if less casual chain restaurants will keep their lead over diners and other casual restaurants, or if this is a temporary trend due to "hot vax summer."

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.