guestXM – by Black Box Intelligence

Moderate Staffing Improvements Contribute to Some Lift in Service-Related Sentiment

Despite a record sales growth in November, the restaurant industry's traffic remains below pre-pandemic levels, with average check increases potentially limiting additional visits; however, moderate staffing improvements have led to a slight uptick in positive service-related guest sentiments.

Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot™ – November 2021 

November 2021: Strong Sales, Lingering Traffic Woes, and Guest Sentiment Trends in Restaurants

From a sales perspective, November was exceptionally good for restaurants. With sales larger by 8.3% than they were during the same month in 2019, this was the strongest-performing month in over a decade for the restaurant industry. Still, despite the rapid growth in sales, restaurant traffic is far from recovering to its pre-pandemic levels.

The industry’s traffic growth improved by 1.6% compared to October; Nonetheless, it’s hard to find a silver lining with restaurant traffic at -4.7% for November. A contributing factor is undoubtedly the rapid increase in average checks in restaurants (along with overall inflation throughout the economy). Larger check averages are pushing sales higher but may be holding back incremental restaurant visits or orders.

By November of last year, restaurants were open for dine-in throughout most of the country. However, sales and traffic were much weaker than they are today, which meant less pressure on operations. As a result, there was a larger percentage of food mentions in online restaurant reviews (almost 7% more mentions were positive) a year ago, while the percentage of service mentions classified as positive was almost 8% higher.

Positive guest sentiment improved marginally month over month. There was a higher percentage of food-based reviews classified as positive during November compared to September and October. The percentage of service-centered reviews classified as positive also improved slightly in November, but the month still came in as the fourth worst year to date based on this metric. According to Black Box Workforce Intelligence™ data from October, restaurants were able to make moderate improvements in their staffing levels, thus contributing to better execution that potentially translated to positive sentiment.

Connecting the Dots on Performance

Thanksgiving Week Insights: Sales Patterns Return Amid Rising Challenges

Restaurant sales growth was strong during the week of Thanksgiving. Same-store sales grew by 6.2% from the comparable week in 2019. The results for the preceding week were much stronger. Still, these strong results are largely fueled by the unusually high growth in average guest checks.

To eliminate the distorting effect of rising checks, analyzing only November’s results this year is much more telling in terms of the health of holiday spending. The data showed that the regular spending patterns across segments have returned, as consumers strive to enjoy the holiday season after the disruption caused by the pandemic last year.

As was the case in 2019, both the family dining and fine dining segments experienced a percentage jump in the double-digits in their average weekly sales during the week of Thanksgiving compared to the average for the first three weeks in November. Meanwhile, casual dining and quick service experienced a double-digit decline in their average weekly sales that week, the same as they did in 2019. Both segments experienced a smaller decline in sales during the week than they did two years ago. The only notable exception was fast casual, which typically has big declines in average sales during the holiday week but had flat sales compared to previous weeks this year.

Holidays create additional challenges to execution and Thanksgiving brought additional challenges due to the staffing shortage. Guest sentiment eroded in key areas for segments that usually experience the biggest incremental sales during the holiday week. The fine dining segment posted almost 20% more in sales while experiencing the biggest decline in ‘food’ sentiment during the week. ‘Service’ and ‘ambiance’ guest sentiment dropped the most in family dining, driven exclusively by a decline in the percentage of positive mentions on those topics.

For the quick service segment, average sales usually drop considerably during Thanksgiving week. Despite the decrease in sales, the segment’s net sentiment for ‘food’, ‘service’, and ‘ambiance’ fell sharply compared to the previous week. In this case, pressures from decreased staffing and guest orders could be to blame.

Top DMAs

  1. Food- Orlando, FL
  2. Service- Orlando, FL
  3. Intent to Return- Orlando, FL
  4. Beverage- Orlando, FL
  5. Ambiance- Orlando, FL
  6. Value- Orlando, FL

Bottom DMAs

  1. Food- Washington, DC
  2. Service- San Francisco, CA
  3. Intent to Return- Raleigh, NC
  4. Beverage- Charlotte, NC
  5. Ambiance- Raleigh, NC
  6. Value- Raleigh, NC


For the first time in years, out of the top 25 markets in the country, Orlando, Florida dominated all attributes of the restaurant experience. Guests in Orlando had the most positive net sentiment based on restaurant ‘food’, ‘beverage’, ‘service’, ‘ambiance’, and ‘value’ during November. They also expressed the highest ‘intent on return’ sentiment.

Behind Orlando, other markets with the highest ‘food’ sentiment were New York, Philadelphia, and Tampa. New York was also the market with the 2nd highest service sentiment, again followed by Tampa and Philadelphia.

On the other hand, guests in North Carolina were the least positive about their restaurant experiences during November. Raleigh had the lowest net sentiment based on restaurant ‘ambiance’, ‘value’, and ‘intent on return’. Guests in Charlotte expressed the lowest sentiment based on restaurant ‘beverages’.


The Restaurant Guest Satisfaction Snapshot (RGSS) is produced by data from Black Box Guest Intelligence™. Guest Intelligence is tracking over 190 brands to benchmark customer satisfaction and is the only online tool that integrates with operational performance data to validate the impact on financial performance. The data set focuses on six key attributes of the restaurant industry experience: food, service, ambiance, beverage, value, and intent to return.
The RGSS algorithm determines the highest-ranking brands based on sentiment. Brands included in this monthly snapshot must have a total of at least 250 mentions for the month. Restaurants must have a minimum number of units to be eligible as well. DMA rankings consider only the largest 25 areas. Net sentiment: a value representing the percentage of positive mentions minus the percentage of negative mentions for a specific attribute of the restaurant experience
Black Box Intelligence™ (formerly TDn2K) is the leading data and insights provider of workforce, guest, consumer, and financial performance benchmarks for the hospitality industry. The Black Box Intelligence product suite is the industry standard for operators seeking best-in-class performance results. With the most extensive and reliable set of accurate restaurant data in the marketplace, Black Box Intelligence currently tracks and analyzes nearly 300 brands, 2.4 million employees, 50,000 restaurant units, and $76 billion in annual sales revenue. Black Box Intelligence is also the producer of the Global Best Practices Conference held annually in Dallas, Texas.

Subscribe to our Out of the Box Insights

Our monthly update providing data and insights for the restaurant industry.