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Restaurant openings are returning to normal levels, but new formats abound

Nearly 6,500 new restaurants and food businesses opened in September, according to Yelp—many of them outdoors or focused on sweets.
Restaurant open
Photograph: Shutterstock

New restaurants are opening at a rate similar to January, one sign the industry is figuring out how to survive amid the topsy-turvy pandemic landscape. 

In September, 6,497 new restaurants and food businesses opened, compared to 6,565 in January, according to Yelp’s Q3 Economic Average report. (Openings represent new businesses added to Yelp.)

While September’s numbers seem to signal a return to normal, the types of businesses that are opening show how things have changed. For instance, nearly 2,000 of the September openings were food trucks and other open-air formats that are more social distancing-friendly, an increase from the same quarter last year.

Recent examples of this trend include Le Bistro Montagne, a revered independent in Portland, Ore., which reopened as a food truck in August after it was forced to close by the pandemic. And Texas chain Chi'lantro BBQ, which began as a fleet of food trucks before transitioning to brick-and-mortar, has brought those trucks back into service.

Yelp also recorded an increase in openings of pop-up restaurants (100 openings) and places that make sweet treats that are usually eaten at home or shipped to loved ones. More than 1,500 dessert concepts opened in September, and cupcake and custom cake places each saw about 500 openings. 

New openings hit bottom in April, when Yelp recorded 3,160 of them. 

Openings also differed by state, with some showing more “resilience” than others, according to Yelp. North Dakota saw the most openings in Q3 compared to the previous quarter, with 39. Washington, D.C., New Hampshire and Rhode Island were also among the most resilient. 

North Dakota’s southern neighbor, South Dakota, registered as the least resilient state for new restaurant openings with 29 in Q3, preceded by Oklahoma, Hawaii and Texas. 

The shift to the outdoors seemed to have consumers pumping the brakes a bit on off-premise. Mentions of takeout, delivery and pickup declined in Q3 compared to the previous quarter, Yelp found—but were still well above pre-pandemic levels. Yelp attributed that to a transition to outdoor dining over the summer. 

That trend may be short-lived, however, as cold weather arrives in many places accompanied by a rise in COVID-19 cases.

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