Restaurants, which thrive on being busy spaces suitable for social gatherings of all sizes, have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, three months after many eateries were forced to temporarily close or transition to takeout-only service, new data is revealing the devastating and permanent effect on many in the industry nationwide.
Yelp recently released a report detailing how many U.S. restaurants listed on the site have permanently shut down since March 1. According to the review platform's Local Economic Impact Report, 23,981 eating establishments listed on Yelp experienced some type of closure since March 1 and of those, 53% have since shut down for good.
The review site also found that restaurants were the hardest hit businesses on the platform when it came to permanent closures, more so than all retail stores, beauty salons and spas, and even fitness establishments.
While Yelp would not disclose how many restaurants in total appear on the platform, company spokesperson Amy Sezak told TODAY Food that the number is representative of restaurants in the U.S.
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But Yelp's data doesn't tell the entire story. Vanessa Sink, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, told TODAY that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 660,000 eating and drinking establishments were operational in the U.S. in February.
“According to our research, 3% of restaurants have closed permanently, but the full scope of closures won’t be known until government statistics are released months from now,” Sink said. “The association projects the final number will be in the tens of thousands.”
Now that many states are beginning to reopen, more businesses are figuring out how to safely provide service while adhering to state-mandated healthy and safety guidelines. Some restaurants have found innovative ways to start serving customers, like seating mannequins at empty tables, to promote social distancing.
According to the Yelp report, many consumers are also pretty eager to get back to dining with others as restaurants that cater to communal dining experiences have experienced a surge in interest from May 1 to June 15 (Yelp measures "interest" by calculating a variety of user activities, including business page views, posting photos, leaving reviews and searches).
Now that on-premise dining is an option again in many places across the country, people are looking into where they can go out for fondue (interest was up 123%), tapas (up 98%) and hot pot eateries (up 49%). Yelp reported that even buffets saw a 17% increase in interest within the designated timeframe.
But not everyone is feeling ready to go back to a restaurant. Delivery and takeout continue to be popular, as interest for both of these categories was up 148% compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Yelp.
The pandemic isn’t the only national event that has had a major effect on the restaurant industry this year. Black-owned businesses have received a boost of support from Yelpers after demonstrations protesting George Floyd’s death and systemic racism started being held all over the world since late May.
According to the report, there’s been a 1,785% increase in interest for Black-owned businesses since May 25 (compared to the three weeks prior), and a 9% increase in review content for Black-owned restaurants.