It’s a strange, new world we live in.

It’s common knowledge that a bevy of industries would die in the wake of Covid-19. And the rapidly accelerating automation of technology in the service industry certainly doesn’t help things either.

It looks as if casual dining restaurants might be a thing of the past, as ZeroHedge reports.

So far in 2023, credit card balances are up a whopping 20% in less than a year. That means that fewer people than ever have been paying off their credit card balance, making dining out a risky proposition. And with almost record inflation this year, even those debt-free might be wary of spending a little extra cash for a nice meal out on the town.

So how bad is it?

Initially, restaurant attendance saw a spike post-pandemic. The strongest one can at the end of 2022, where their traffic increased 6% in the span of three months. 

Too bad they couldn’t hold that momentum. A slowdown quickly followed, and three months later, the numbers reversed, with traffic declining about 5%, with each month hosting less and less visitors. There’s a clear, unending downward trajectory.

Bloomberg’s David Halen said, “We expect cash-strapped low- and middle-income diners to cut restaurant visits and checks through year-end due to more than two years of real income declines and ballooning credit-card balances.”

Quick service, restaurants, however, seem to be doing better. They aren’t going gangbusters, but the decline in attendance has been far less sharp. Attendance dropped just 2% in the same time period compared to casual sit-down restaurants, and are flatlining, versus declining.

Those in the restaurant industry are pivoting, while some got ahead of the curb. Take Steak ‘n’ Shake, for example. The iconic midwestern dining chain has a storied history going back 80 years. Customers, up until half a decade ago, would get their food served on fine china with a friendly waitress. They would open up a giant menu to choose from about 30 milkshake flavors.

In 2017, the restaurant overhauled their whole process. Gone were the waitresses. Instead you would go to a counter, order the food from a menu with only five milkshake flavors, and pick up your food from a tray with no plate in sight.

In 2021, the company started instituting self-service kiosks, making the dining process even more impersonal than it was before.

Who knows if the fix will work. They closed 30 years restaurants last year, their largest single-year closing number to date. And since 2019, 41% of Steak ‘n’ Shake’s restaurants were shuttered.

Will it work? Their parent company, Biglari Holdings, has their stock up .93%, showing modest but consistent gains. However, their stocks were trading about 20% lower these last few months than the year before.

Steak ‘n’ Shake’s dramatic overhaul will provide a blueprint for the rest of the casual dine-in restaurant industry. Don’t be shocked if Chili’s follows suit, and if the concept of cheap-casual dine in restaurants become a thing of the past. You’re either splurging at the fancy steakhouse or roughing it at McDonald’s. There’s no in-between in this dystopian leaning future.

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