New stores are opening once again as diners flood back.

There was a time when Yelp’s data painted a dire landscape. More than 32,000 restaurants were shuttered as of August 31, with 19,590 of those listed as permanent.

More recently, a report from Datassential pegged the figure at 10.2 percent of all U.S. restaurants, or 79,438 shuttered locations from March 2020 to April 2021. A significant slice of the 778,807 venues operating before COVID-19. The National Restaurant Association’s mid-May data suggested roughly 90,000 eating and drinking place establishments remained closed, either permanently or long-term, which reflected a return to operations for many temporarily closed units. That number climbed as high as 110,000 last December.

Of late, headlines have flipped in favor of a broad and dramatic recovery, trigged by demand that’s outpacing supply, both from a labor and commodity standpoint.

Nearly 65 percent of adults in the U.S. are said to have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Local restrictions and mask mandates continue to lift.

After three consecutive months of sales stronger than they were even in 2019, the restaurant industry’s recovery had held steady, Black Box Intelligence said. “Thankfully, this recovery came much faster than initially expected,” a spokesperson from the insights platform said to FSR.

The sector’s two-year comp sales in May came in at plus-5.43 percent. Traffic declined only 5.27 percent, which is a pretty promising result when you consider the gains made in off-premises. It suggests dine-in recovery is mounting the comeback, while takeout and delivery gains are pushing sales the extra mile above two-year levels, even despite limited capacity restrictions.

In the week ending May 30, per Black Box, restaurant sales accelerated and the industry posted its 11th consecutive week of growth—best results in the last six weeks.

Guest checks lifted at a heightened pace, both year-over-year and compared to 2019.

Off-premises sales growth remained “historically high” and relatively stable for limited-service brands. On the full-service side, off-premises sales were “extremely high,” but the rate of growth has slid steadily since mid-March (again, a reflection of dine-in. And really, a trend operators want to see due to the beverage attachment they gave up with takeout/delivery surges).

To further illustrate why this could get even better, only five states and the District of Columbia posted negative same-store sales growth.

The best-performing regions during the week were the Southeast, Southwest, Florida, and Mountain Plains. The worst-performing were the Midwest, New England, New York-New Jersey, and California.

It’s easy to decipher what separates the packs. And if all goes accordingly, those latter markets should follow the others in terms of loosened restrictions. Thus, sales will see a similar rocket from past levels.

Case in point, the Big Apple, where COVID restrictions just dropped thanks to 70 percent of New Yorkers now being vaccinated.

“After 16 months of unprecedented devastation to New York’s restaurants, bars, clubs inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s monumental to join Governor Cuomo and leaders from around New York at 1 World Trade Center to officially lift restrictions on businesses and begin a new phase of the city’s recovery,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. “This is a critically important step forward and remarkable day on a long road to recovery. Much more still needs to be done to support tens of thousands of struggling small businesses and workers in New York: top among those efforts is for the federal government to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and provide local businesses the urgent relief they need.”

Yelp on Tuesday released an update on what it’s seeing in regards to the industry’s recovery, labor shortage and all.

More than 3.7 million diners were seated via Yelp in May 2021—an all-time high. The number of diners seated rose 48 percent in May compared to May 2019. Yelp reported a similar increase in April.

Yelp chart.

As diners head back, new restaurant and food businesses are opening at near pre-COVID levels. Close to 6,600 new operations debuted in May 2021—a 42 percent jump from May 2020 and down just 21 percent from May 2019.

Yelp chart.

Additionally, Yelp’s data revealed a significant spike in food and restaurant business reopenings, with nearly 16,500 flipping the switch in April 2021 (the highest since April of 2020) and leveling out with more than 5,000 reopening their doors in May 2021.

Yelp chart.

Wyoming and Idaho posted the highest increases in diners seated, with both states up more than 1,000 percent in May 2021 compared to May 2019. Other states Yelp noticed big spikes included Nevada (513 percent), Delaware (422 percent), Alabama (386 percent), Mississippi (364 percent), Hawaii (335 percent), and Colorado (321 percent). Texas, one of the first states to lift mask mandates and open its doors to diners, watched diners seated via Yelp hike 143 percent compared to May 2019. Houston (213 percent), San Antonio (200 percent), Dallas (126 percent), and Austin (85 percent) all witnessed appreciable rises in diners going back to restaurants.

Yelp chart.

While some larger metros continue to trail in guest volume, other cities are bouncing back and performing better than they were pre-pandemic. Cities that reported huge spikes from May 2021 versus May 2019 include Honolulu (853 percent), Las Vegas (589 percent), and Denver (320 percent).

Yelp chart.

Consumer Trends, Feature, Finance