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Restaurants Face Margin Contraction, Slower M&A in Q1 2022, MUFG Says

Aggressive financing continues for now

Longer-term trends include technology investment, retooling for off-premise dining and more drive-through space

NEW YORK, NY, (November 10, 2021) – With rising commodity prices, workforce shortages, and the need for higher expenditures to attract labor in a competitive market, the restaurant industry will face continued margin contraction and, consequently, lower merger-and-acquisition (M&A) volume in the first quarter of 2022, according to the Restaurant Finance group at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG).

The team provided its views on the heels of the annual Restaurant Finance and Development Conference this month in Las Vegas.

Slower M&A anticipated in Q1 2022

“Despite strong sales, most restaurant companies have seen their margins erode because of higher food, fuel, labor and transportation costs,” says Nick Cole, Head of Restaurant Finance at MUFG. “Additionally, they face increasing difficulty in hiring staff amid persistent labor shortages, which will pose a financial burden as restaurant companies try to draw new workers and retain existing ones in a labor market that is demanding higher wages and being more selective in choosing employers.”

Cole and his team expect lower margins to slow the pace of M&A in the first quarter of 2022. “The M&A market depends on a well-capitalized banking system flush with liquidity, which we currently have, but cash flow—and the price acquirers are willing to pay for that liquidity—are the primary drivers that attract buyers, so unless we see an improvement in margins, we expect the pullback to be significant.”

Cole adds that the generational transfer of businesses—especially in the quick-service sector—combined with their extraordinary financial performance have fueled the recent boom in M&A.

Coping with labor scarcity and inflation

The MUFG Restaurant Finance group points to labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions as factors that have strained restaurant operations while contributing to rising wages and inflation. “In addition to vacancies for waiters, cashiers and kitchen staff, restaurants have had to cope with the effect of supply interruptions and worker scarcity among commodity producers and transporters that pushed up labor and food costs,” says Quinn Hall, who leads loan underwriting and portfolio management for the MUFG Restaurant Finance group.

Hall points to the looming financial challenges restaurants face in overcoming staffing shortfalls. “Since it’s not enough to just offer higher salaries, restaurant businesses will need to consider a range of enhancements to their benefits packages and employment offerings—from health benefits to flexible work schedules—that would raise costs as well,” he says.

Aggressive financing conditions—for now

“Financing conditions for restaurants are still benefiting from a healthy supply of capital and record financial performance—particularly among quick-service establishments and restaurant operating companies—from the second quarter of 2020 through the second quarter of this year,” Hall says. “For now, banks continue to accept a higher leverage profile among borrowers and offer loose amortization, pricing and covenant terms."

If margins continue to erode, financing terms will tighten next year—especially if interest rates rise and borrowing costs grow—and certain businesses may experience credit downgrades, Hall adds.

Technology and off-premise dining

Brian Geraghty , Head of Loan Originations at MUFG, says that restaurants continue to pursue costly investments in technology to remain competitive—especially in an environment of compressing margins and labor shortages.

“Restaurants are evolving their digital platforms to offer customers the ability to order food from anywhere and on the go,” Geraghty says. “Onsite digital kiosks in certain establishments now come in the form of proprietary or third-party apps on a mobile device in everyone’s hand.”

Geraghty adds that technology investments are part of a broader effort to support more business off premises, where a significant portion of ordering and dining now occur following the pandemic. This effort includes the retooling of restaurant real estate to allow for more drive-through and digital pick-up lanes while deemphasizing dining-room space to lower dependence on in-restaurant business.

“Over the long run, we believe you’ll see restaurants shrinking in size to reflect smaller onsite patronage but better built to support off-premise business,” Geraghty says.


About MUFG’s Restaurant Finance group

The Restaurant Finance group at MUFG is led by industry pioneer Nick Cole, who, along with Brian Geraghty, Head of Loan Originations, was among the first to establish a dedicated finance group for restaurants in the 1990s.

At MUFG, they are joined by Quinn Hall, a franchise-finance veteran who leads loan underwriting and portfolio management, and a deep bench of seasoned professionals with rich experience providing financing solutions and advisory services to operating companies, franchisors and franchisees of regional, national and multinational restaurant enterprises.

The group focuses on large and established brands in the quick-serve, casual and fast-casual restaurant sub-sectors. Its range of solutions includes term and institutional term loans, revolving credit facilities, developmental lines of credit, hedging strategies, interest-rate protection, debt capital markets solutions (including bond offerings), acquisition finance, working capital, cash management and treasury services.

About Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc.’s U.S. Operations including MUFG Americas Holdings Corporation

The U.S. operations of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. (MUFG), one of the world’s leading financial groups, has total assets of $325 billion at June 30, 2021. As part of that total, MUFG Americas Holdings Corporation (MUAH), a financial holding company, bank holding company, and intermediate holding company, has total assets of $165.3 billion at June 30, 2021. MUAH’s main subsidiaries are MUFG Union Bank, N.A. and MUFG Securities Americas Inc. MUFG Union Bank, N.A. provides a wide range of financial services to consumers, small businesses, middle-market companies, and major corporations. As of June 30, 2021, MUFG Union Bank, N.A. operated 305 branches, consisting primarily of retail banking branches in the West Coast states, along with commercial branches in Texas, Illinois, New York, and Georgia. MUFG Securities Americas Inc. is a registered securities broker-dealer which engages in capital markets origination transactions, domestic and foreign debt and equities securities transactions, private placements, collateralized financings, and securities borrowing and lending transactions. MUAH is owned by MUFG Bank, Ltd. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. MUFG Bank, Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc., has offices in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Canada. Visit or for more information.

About MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc.)

About MUFG Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. (MUFG) is one of the world’s leading financial groups. Headquartered in Tokyo and with over 360 years of history, MUFG has a global network with around 2,500 locations in more than 50 countries. The Group has over 180,000 employees and offers services including commercial banking, trust banking, securities, credit cards, consumer finance, asset management, and leasing. The Group aims to “be the world’s most trusted financial group” through close collaboration among our operating companies and flexibly respond to all of the financial needs of our customers, serving society, and fostering shared and sustainable growth for a better world. MUFG’s shares trade on the Tokyo, Nagoya, and New York stock exchanges.

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