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Gauging the recovery in retail sales at bars and restaurants

The FRED Blog has discussed how, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, households cut back on eating out and increased food purchases to prepare meals at home. With data from the U.S. Census Bureau, we created a FRED graph with two lines to compare sales at restaurants and bars with sales at grocery stores.* Today, we use the same Census dataset to re-examine the topic from a different perspective.

The red line in our FRED graph today shows the value of retail sales at restaurants and bars as a fraction of retail sales at grocery stores. We added the black dashed line, with a constant value of 1, to make it easy to see when the two categories of retail sales are equal. And they were essentially equal from March 2019 through February 2020.

In March and April 2020, though, consumers sheltered in place to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus and a wide gap opened. Between then and October, retail sales at restaurants and bars slowly climbed back. But in November and December 2020, those sales decreased again. A second wave of virus infections and renewed social distancing, as described by Guillaume Vandenbroucke, could help explain this change in trajectory.

To learn more about the effects of 2020’s second wave of virus infections on overall economic growth, inflation, and unemployment, read the work of William Chen, Marco Del Negro, Shlok Goyal, and Alissa Johnson.

*Technically, we compared inflation-adjusted advanced retail sales from food services and drinking places with inflation-adjusted advanced retail sales from food and beverage stores.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Advance Retail Sales: Food Services and Drinking Places.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line 1” tab to customize the data by searching for and selecting “Advance Retail Sales: Food and Beverage Stores.” Next, create a custom formula to combine the series by typing in “a/b” and clicking “Apply.” Next, use the “Add Line” tab to create a user-defined line. Create a line with start and end values of 1. To change the line colors, use the choices in the “Format” tab.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: RSDBS, RSFSDP

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