People returning to restaurants correlates with COVID spikes: Yelp

Meanwhile, more restaurants were closing permanently, the business review site found.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In May, lots of people began returning to restaurants in states such as Florida, Texas and South Carolina. A month later, those same places were COVID-19 hot spots.

That’s according to data published Wednesday by business review site Yelp. The correlation suggests that people congregating in restaurants, bars and other businesses contributed to the virus’s spread. 

According to Yelp, the 10 states where consumer interest in restaurants, bars, nightlife and gyms jumped the most in May also saw the largest COVID-19 case increases in June.

For instance, consumers in Florida showed a more than 100% increase in those activities in May, and saw cases rise by nearly 600% in June.

In comparison, in the 10 states where cases decreased the most, consumer interest in those same activities was flat. 

The spikes appeared to put a damper on dining out. 

“As outbreaks worsened through late June, consumer interest in these categories started to come back down in states like Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Arizona,” Yelp said. “This emphasizes the strong correlation between the pandemic and consumer behavior.”

Meanwhile, more restaurants across the country were closing permanently.

More than 26,000 restaurants were closed as of July 10, 60% of them permanently, according to Yelp. That represents a 23% increase in permanent closures since June 15.

In June, 24,000 restaurants were closed, about half permanently, according to Yelp.

Yelp said the count is “likely an estimate” because it only accounts for restaurants that listed themselves as closed on the website. 

The closed figures are much smaller than other estimates have suggested. For instance, a report from the Independent Restaurant Coalition last month estimated up to 85% of independent restaurants could close by the end of the year without massive federal aid. That would be about 425,000 restaurants.

The reopening of dining rooms in parts of the country was reflected in consumer shifts around menu categories. Interest in German cuisine rose 35%, along with live and raw food (36%), French cuisine (21%) and steakhouses (20%), according to Yelp. Consumer interest in fast food fell 19%, along with common delivery foods such as chicken wings (down 15%) and pizza (down 7%).

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