The way consumers use restaurants is starting to resemble something close to normal—sort of.
People are dining in at restaurants at levels similar to 2019, before the pandemic turned the world upside down, according to new data from Yelp. The business review site found that consumer interest in on-premise dining from March through May recovered to 89% of where it was during the same period in 2019.
Diners are showing particular interest in group experiences such as conveyor belt sushi (97% of 2019 levels) and tapas (82%), Yelp found. Buffets have been slower to recover, but have nonetheless reached 52% of 2019 activity on Yelp.
None of this is necessarily surprising as COVID-19-era restrictions are lifted, weather warms up and the freshly vaccinated get out and about again. What is somewhat surprising is that consumers' appetite for things like delivery is still well above 2019 levels.
Yelp activity around food delivery services from March through May was at 189% relative to the same period in 2019, according to Yelp; personal chefs were at 138%.
"While many consumers are returning to their favorite restaurants, not all are ready to give up the comfort of eating at home," Yelp said.
That is in line with many restaurants' results from the first quarter of 2021. Digital sales for Chipotle Mexican Grill grew 133.9% year over year in Q1, while it also recovered 60% of its pre-pandemic dine-in sales, for instance.
It is still too early to say for sure whether that dynamic will continue. Pent-up demand could be fueling the rush back to restaurants, and stimulus checks could be giving consumers more leeway to continue paying for things like delivery. But as we pass the halfway point of 2021, it is yet another data point suggesting that pandemic-era dining habits could stick around.
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