Survey: 33% of Wisconsin restaurants could close within 6 months if COVID-19 measures continue

The National Restaurant Association surveyed 3,500 restaurant operators from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.

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A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association showed that 33% of Wisconsin restaurants are unlikely to be in business six months from now if pandemic restrictions continue.

The association surveyed 3,500 restaurant operators from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1, and called the results "stark for Wisconsin and nationally."

Prospects for Wisconsin restaurants looked slightly better than the nationwide number — 37% — of restaurants that reported they were unlikely to still be operating in six months if no additional relief is available from the federal government.

In April, research by the respected James Beard Foundation suggested that four out of five, or 80%, of independent restaurants may not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other state numbers in the recent National Restaurant Association survey showed that 68% of restaurant owners don't expect their restaurant's sales to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months. Overall sales for Wisconsin restaurants were down 36% on average.


While sales were significantly lower for most restaurants, 53% of Wisconsin restaurant owners and operators said operational costs, as a percent of sales, are higher than they were before the pandemic began.

Wisconsin restaurants are at 71% of staffing compared to normal levels, the survey found. It also showed that 44% of restaurant owners in the state don't expect their staffing levels to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months.

Following the initial rehiring surge in May and June, restaurant staffing trends were mixed, the report said. Forty percent of restaurant operators said they added employees in July and August, while 15% say they laid off or furloughed staff in July and August.

Twenty-nine percent of Wisconsin restaurant operators said they planned to add employees in the next 30 days, while 26% said they anticipated laying off or furloughing employees within the next 30 days.

Other state results showed that consumer spending in restaurants remained well below normal levels in August. Eighty-five percent of Wisconsin restaurant operators said their total sales volume in August was lower than it was in August 2019.

With restrictions limiting indoor dining, 74% of operators said carryout sales now represent a higher proportion of their total business than it did before COVID-19.

In Wisconsin, 28% of operators said business conditions in August were worse than they were in July, while 10% said business conditions improved in August.

Also, 68% of Wisconsin operators said they don't expect sales to return to pre-coronavirus levels within the next six months.


In 2018, Wisconsin's 12,796 restaurants employed more than 212,000 and had $3.43 billion in sales, according to the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center.

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