Expected rise in 2021 U.S. restaurant sales not enough to offset pandemic losses -report

Jan 26 (Reuters) - An expected 11% increase in U.S. restaurant sales in 2021, to $731.5 billion, will still not be enough to offset the industry’s steep losses in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report on Tuesday.

Sales for the hard-hit industry fell nearly 24% in 2020 to $659 billion from $864.3 billion the year before, according to the National Restaurant Association’s report.

After the virus started sweeping across the United States in March, many restaurants, large and small, cut staff or shut altogether as governments restricted dining and consumers shied away from eating out.

By December, 110,000 restaurants and bars out of about 1 million had closed long-term or shuttered for good, the report found.

Of those closed permanently, many were neighborhood fixtures. The majority had been open for 16 years on average, and 16% had been in business for at least 30 years.

There were still 2.5 million fewer jobs in the sector at the end of 2020 than before the pandemic hit.

One bright spot for some restaurant operators has been delivery. Many added delivery for the first time during 2020 across all categories of dining.

Using third-party services, including DoorDash Inc, Uber Eats and Grubhub Inc, was more common than launching in-house delivery - especially for fast food chains, the report found.

However, restaurants have complained about high commissions charged when customers order through the third-party companies.

Consumers may be listening, with 64% of those surveyed by the association saying they preferred to place delivery orders directly from the actual restaurant than through a third-party app. (Reporting by Hilary Russ Editing by Bill Berkrot)