Jul 20, 2022 - Economy

People itching to dine out are waiting longer than ever for reservations

Illustration of a line of people in front of a "Please wait to be seated" sign.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Desires to be out in the world are butting up against labor shortages and soaring inflation, Yelp's latest economic report shows. So far, those desires are still winning.

Why it matters: What the pandemic took away is back in full-force as consumers make up for lost time.

State of play: Diners in the second quarter booked reservations further in advance than ever, according to Yelp data going back to 2018.

  • The average time between when a reservation was made on Yelp and the actual reservation date increased 14% from the same period last year to 3.3 days.
  • Compared to the second quarter of 2019, that's a 40% jump.
  • Wait times also increased to 35 minutes in June — up from 16 minutes in 2020 and 22 minutes in 2021, based on the median time from the Yelp Waitlist service.

At the same time, inflation has started to curb appetites for splurging and has changed business behavior.

  • The share of all searches on Yelp using the inexpensive “$” filter increased by 7% from the first quarter of last year.
  • The share of the highest “$$$$” filter decreased by 12%.

Meanwhile, mentions of inflation shot up 38% within reviews of more casual restaurants, while they increased 164% in those for street fairs and festivals.

  • Also worth nothing — for the first time ever, consumers mentioned “shrinkflation” in Yelp reviews.
  • The term — describing when portions get smaller for the same amount of money — showed up most commonly in reviews for restaurants serving more affordable dishes like hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza, followed by seafood restaurants, Italian and Chinese food.

Yes, but: Interest in high-priced restaurants is still higher than in 2019.

  • Searches using the “$$$$” filter are up 55% from the pre-pandemic year, while “$” filter searches are down 24%.

Our thought bubble: People are still looking to treat themselves to nice experiences with excess savings built up during the pandemic.

The bottom line: "While inflation has forced consumers to adjust their spending habits, overall Yelp data indicates consumer intent to spend also remains strong," Pria Mudan, Yelp Data Science Leader, tells Axios.

Go deeper