Jun 6, 2022 - News

Inflation takes its toll on Denver's dampened dining scene

Change in OpenTable restaurant bookings
Data: OpenTable; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Denver's dining scene has yet to bounce back from the pandemic — and inflation could exacerbate the slowdown.

Driving the news: The city's restaurant bookings as of the start of June are higher than the country as a whole, but levels still lag 1.5% compared to 2019, new OpenTable data shows.

  • The situation appears even bleaker statewide, with bookings down 9%.
  • The persistent slump has pushed some restaurants to raise menu prices to help weather the losses.

Why it matters: The restaurant industry is one litmus test when it comes to declaring a return to normal in this perpetual pandemic.

What they're saying: "Record gas prices, rising interest rates, plunging stock prices and decades-high inflation are putting a strain on the budgets of many households," Colorado Restaurant Association spokesperson Denise Mickelsen tells Axios Denver.

  • "Consumers are facing a confluence of headwinds that will potentially influence their spending patterns in the months ahead."

Threat level: From a dire labor shortage to rising worker wages and soaring inflation costs — particularly around the cost of food — Colorado restaurant owners can't take much more.

  • Eateries across the state have lost $3 billion in revenue since the pandemic began and are nowhere near recovering, per the state's restaurant association.
  • The latest decline in consumer spending "could not come at a worse time," Mickelsen notes.

The big picture: Nationwide, consumer spending at restaurants rose for the third consecutive month in April, an upward trend that followed sharp declines in both December 2021 and January when customer traffic and business operations were negatively impacted by the Omicron variant.

Yes, but: Restaurant bookings nationwide lagged 12% at the start of June compared to pre-pandemic times, per OpenTable data.

  • The habit of dining out could fall further as inflation takes its toll, with 53% of Americans planning to cut back "mostly" on restaurant trips, per a recent CNBC survey.

The bottom line: Economists estimate that the local restaurant industry won't see pre-pandemic sales or diner behavior for another two to four years.

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