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Diners surged back to restaurants in the spring, but a full recovery could be stalling out this summer

  • In-person dining is almost back to normal more than a year after lockdowns shocked the restaurant industry.
  • Data show steady gains from January to May this year, approaching 2019 levels.
  • But the recovery is still short of complete, and several key challenges remain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The restaurant industry was on track for a roaring comeback this year, but the recovery seems to be slowing down well short of pre-pandemic levels, reservation and foot-traffic data show.

From January to May, diners more than doubled their visits to restaurants as the vaccine rollout reached more than half of all Americans, according to data from OpenTable, Resy, and Placer.

But the trend appears to be leveling off in recent weeks, remaining stubbornly below the level of two years ago.

OpenTable’s industry tracker shows shows in-person dining was down about 60% in January compared with the same month in 2019, improving to about 10% below in May.

Resy’s report from April shows a similar starting point as OpenTable, while a spokesperson could only confirm that global reservations more than doubled from December to May.

Placer’s estimate of foot traffic shows a less dramatic reduction in January, but a similar trend overall.

All but six states tracked by OpenTable no longer have capacity restrictions on indoor dining, while four including New York and California have some degree of a mask requirement.

Meanwhile, data from the US Centers for Disease Control show that two-thirds of Americans age 18 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But a recent poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of the remaining unvaccinated Americans said they will definitely not get the vaccine, and another 29% said they probably would not.

The same poll found that about a third Americans felt restrictions in their area had been lifted too quickly, while about a quarter said reopening was not fast enough. The rest said the pace was about right.

Resy’s report from May showed significant surges immediately on the heels of reopening stages, with New York City bookings increasing by 17% in the first week that restaurants were allowed to operate at half capacity. New York fully reopened on May 19.

In some cities — Boston, Charleston, Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia — restaurants were doing even better in May than in 2019, led by those cities in warmer climates with fewer historical capacity limits.

Even so, as the US approaches its maximum vaccination rate and public health restrictions are fully lifted, the broad restaurant recovery is not yet complete and well short of showing growth by exceeding its levels from two years ago.

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