53% Of Restaurants Closed During COVID-Lockdown Have Shuttered Permanently, Yelp Data Shows

Wednesday, July 8, 2020
By Paul Martin

by Alicia Kelso via RestaurantDive.com,
Wed, 07/08/2020

New research from Yelp shows that as of June 15, there were nearly 140,000 total business closures on the website since March 1. When compared to similar research released in April, which showed more than 175,000 business closures, these latest numbers indicate that more than 20% of businesses closed in April have reopened.

In March, restaurants had the highest numbers of business closures listed on the app compared to other industries, and the rate of closure has remained high. Of the businesses that closed, 17% are restaurants, and 53% of those restaurant closures are indicated as permanent on Yelp. Retail, however, is the hardest hit overall.

During the peak of the pandemic, the number of diners seated across Yelp Reservations and Waitlist dropped essentially to zero. In early June, numbers of diners seated are down 57% of pre-pandemic levels.

Predictions about the restaurant industry’s fate in a post-pandemic world have been abundant throughout the crisis. The National Restaurant Association estimated that 15% of restaurants could close, while Barclay’s estimate is more optimistic, predicting approximately 10% of restaurants will shutter permanently.

Though it’s hard to find a silver lining in Yelp’s data, some predictions have been more dire still. In May, OpenTable said one in four restaurants were at risk for closure, for example, though those numbers focus on restaurants that use the reservations platform. Casual or fine dining sit-down restaurants and mom-and-pop concepts that are not well capitalized are expected to experience the brunt of this crisis. The Independent Restaurant Coalition, for example, forecast that as many as 85% of independent restaurants could permanently close by the end of the year.

Yelp’s data does illustrate how some restaurants have been able to weather the storm, however, reporting a 10-fold increase in searches for takeout since March 10, for example. Takeout and delivery searches are up 148%, with Yelp predicting this off-premise trend could be here to stay.

The research also shows that restaurants catering to group dining are making a comeback, with fondue searches up 123%, tapas bars up 98%, hot pot up 49% and buffets up 17%. Conversely, searches for cuisines that were popular during the past three months have begun to wane, including pizza (down 28%), Chinese (down 26%) and fast food (down 18%).

While the pendulum has swung toward group dining, perhaps due to pent up demand after three-plus-months of safer at home orders and dining room closures in some markets, this interest could be short lived. This data was released before a number of states — New Jersey, New York and California among them — have delayed or re-closed some or all of their restaurants due to spiking coronavirus cases. Extended closures will further challenge operators who are burning through cash to maintain rent, labor and other costs. Restaurants with the strongest balance sheets and best access to capital have the best chance to endure sustained closures. The industry will favor the haves and weed out the have-nots, a trend that has become clearer as major chains like Taco Bell, Domino’s and McDonald’s have announced massive hiring sprees.

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