The majority of guests are interacting with restaurants from their homes.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to upheave consumer behavior.

Review platform Yelp released its first coronavirus economic impact report Tuesday, outlining some of the biggest changes to a now evaporated status quo. Community-supported agriculture, or sourcing from farms, has climbed 157 percent in share of daily U.S. consumer actions (in relative root categories from a week earlier.)

When guests are ordering from restaurants, standbys for takeout and delivery, such as Thai restaurants, pizzerias, and quick-service brands are gaining consumer interest—up 55, 53, and 53 percent, respectively. This is coming partially at the expense of dining-out options that bring together groups and different types of food in close proximity, like food courts and buffets, which dropped 32 percent apiece.


Overall, Yelp’s data illustrated a grim picture that’s continued to sharpen in recent days: U.S. consumer interest for restaurants has plummeted 67 percent since March 10. Businesses like yoga studios and breweries are down even more dramatically—78 and 85 percent, respectively.

People are, however, hiking more (up 135 percent), mountain biking (119 percent), visiting lakes (86 percent), and parks (62 percent.) Bowling, to put into perspective the drastic indoor-outdoor split, slipped 67 percent.

Below is a look at categories on the rise and fall.

Yelp chart.

One upward segment to run a highlighter through: pizza. In Datassential’s most recent report on the coronavirus impact, 63 percent of people (1,000 surveyed) picked pizza as the food they wanted most during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was far and away the lead choice, with burgers and sandwiches clocking in next at 51 percent.

There are likely few culprits at play. The obvious being pizza chains aren’t scrambling to build delivery programs and are best suited to adjust to today’s rapidly evolving new normal. Also, the notion of pizza takeout is just a natural extension of consumer behavior during a time when everything is being tossed into a blender. Basically, the leap average customers need to make to order pizza right now is not as drastic as it might be for their favorite local dine-in spot.

Altogether, these factors create a sense of comfort or safety people are seeking right now. To Datassential’s point, people are “eating to live,” today more than they’re “living to eat.” And that’s why there’s been a spike in familiar foods consumers feel like they can trust, from a delivery and carryout perspective.

Additionally, pizza tends to be a cost-effective option that feeds multiple people. And if finances are tightening, even with waived delivery fees, pizza might just feel like a more budget-friendly outlet than trying to collect a series of household orders and build a family different from various parts. Bundles remain a popular menu add for chains of all sizes.


Where is all the restaurant traffic going?

Why older diners could be a COVID-19 cure

Nearly half of customers are avoiding restaurants 

A lot of restaurants are also developing make-shift drive thrus to take advantage of another of Datassential’s key findings—that 57 percent of people said they would be “very willing” to order drive thru; 53 percent pickup. Meanwhile, just 47 percent felt that way about delivery;, curbside, and carryout.

Some operators have asked guests to include the make and model of their car ahead of time, during the order process, along with the ability to prepay, like Mercato in Carrboro, North Carolina, so they can cut down on the potential points of contact. Contactless delivery isn’t always going to be an option for every brand in every location. This setup allows an employee to just pass the food through the car window like a drive thru. No signing receipts. No getting out of the car to open a door or interact with anybody, or wait in line with other customers.

That curbside number would likely be higher if guests felt the experience was as socially distant as a regular fast-food drive-thru experience. It goes back to why pizza is doing so well. Drive thrus were ingrained in consumer behavior before COVID-19 struck, and perception remains pretty iron clad.

Closing those gaps in the other options available, wherever and however possible, is going to make a big difference.

On the declining side, the coffee shop point is a tough reality to navigate. Starbucks recently shut all its non-drive-thru locations for at least two weeks. But what does the local spot do? There’s no easy answer.

Crema, in Denver, decided to shutter for two weeks and set up a donation page//tip pool for baristas and other employees, who, overnight, were left without jobs, according to Westword. The company also asked customers to shop online for coffee beans with a purchase code.

Per the San Francisco Chronicle, Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco placed a makeshift countertop near the entrance so customers could order drinks from the sidewalk. Red Bay Coffee in Oakland flipped to take-out service and banned handshakes. Burlap Coffee, also in Oakland, used chairs as a makeshift barrier to block the café’s spacious main seating area and started asking employees to wear gloves and pour milk and cream into coffee—something customers previously did on their own.

As you can see, the simple fact is there’s no blueprint for this.

Yelp also looked into how local economies have shifted. Naturally, coastal states have faced the most disruption. Notably, Nevada’s shift since March 10, Yelp said, in terms of how its economy realigned to match the national upheaval, is the largest in the nation. It reflects the enormous impact on the core industries of Las Vegas entertainment and hospitality.

Yelp chart.

The vast majority of people engaging with restaurants are doing so from home. Searches for delivery or takeout have accelerated relative to searches for dine-in options that, until recently, were prevalent, Yelp said.

Over the past week, the ratio of the rolling seven-day total of searches for dine-out options to the equivalent number of searches for dine-in options increased by more than tenfold.

The shift ignited when people were first encouraged to avoid crowds and picked up when cities and states started mandating these behaviors.


What Yelp is doing

Yelp recently announced a $25 million relief program for local businesses in the form of waived advertising fees, free advertising, products, and services. Restaurants that remain open during COVID-19 receive free access to Yelp page upgrades, including Business Highlights and Call To Action, as well as Connect, which helps restaurants communicate timely information with customers.

Also, restaurants receive three free months of access to Yelp Reservations and Waitlist. For brands that offer delivery and/or takeout, Yelp is providing $100 in free search advertising. The relief efforts are available to brands with fewer than five locations.

Yelp is waiving charges for Yelp Ads delivered in the second half of March (this happens automatically, no need to apply) and pausing scheduled Yelp Ads for April. Programs will restart May 1. Restaurants can opt to have them interrupted as well.

Here’s a link to some options and how to leverage them.

Restaurants and bars with Yelp Ads campaigns
Restaurants and bars without active Yelp Ads campaigns 
Restaurants currently using—or interested in—Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist
Businesses beyond restaurants and bars that advertise on Yelp

Yelp announced Tuesday a partnership with GoFundMe that enables independent restaurants to start fundraisers and accept donations through their Yelp pages. These will automatically appear on Yelp pages for restaurants and users will see a “Donate” icon on the Yelp page, as seen below.

Yelp Screen Shots

Yelp said, along with GoFundMe, it would pledge to match up to $1 million in donations, with a $500 matching grant to eligible businesses that raise at least $500 on their GoFundMe pages.

It expects additional companies to contribute to the matching fund over the next week. These fundraisers will begin to appear on Yelp pages as early as Tuesday, and roll out to all eligible spots nationwide over the next two days. Restaurants must have a claimed Yelp page to participate, and five or fewer locations.

Consumer Trends, Feature