Jan 25, 2024 - News

Post-COVID restaurant industry is showing signs of life

Data: Yelp; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yelp; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of new restaurant listings in the Raleigh metro fell by just 8% between 2019 and 2023, according to new Yelp data shared with Axios.

By the numbers: The decrease might sound like bad news, but the number of new restaurants newly listed on Yelp has been steadily increasing since 2020, when Yelp saw a 30% drop-off in the number of listings.

  • 230 new restaurants were listed in the Raleigh area in 2019.
  • Last year, 212 restaurants were newly listed on Yelp, up from 161 in 2020, 195 in 2021 and 200 in 2022.
  • New businesses overall in the area rose by 44% from 2019.
New restaurants on Yelp per 100k people, 2023
Data: Yelp; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The big picture: Nationally, the restaurant industry is showing signs of life after a brutal stretch brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Nearly 53,800 restaurants opened their doors across the country last year, up 10% from 2022.
  • Another way of looking at that figure: It's up 2% from 2019, meaning there's been a slight increase in openings compared to pre-pandemic times.

Why it matters: Restaurants are more than just a place to grab a meal — they're a gathering spot for families and communities, a vital employer across the socioeconomic spectrum, and a key swath of the cultural fabric that makes cities unique.

What they're saying: "The restaurant industry has proven to be resilient throughout the pandemic, with the industry seeing higher restaurant openings in 2023 than pre-pandemic levels for the first time," says Clifford Cate, vice president and general manager, restaurants at Yelp.

  • "Even through economic challenges, restaurant owners continue to delight their diners, staying responsive to shifts in consumer preferences, like the increasing demand for earlier reservation times and higher-end experiences."

Reality check: It's one thing to open a restaurant. It's another to keep it open through the first week, the first month, the first year.

  • Many existing owners are struggling with high food, rent and labor costs; rookies will face those same headwinds.
  • And given the bloodbath that was the pandemic, it's likely that the upstarts haven't yet made up for all the losses over the last few years (though it's tough to know exactly how many restaurants closed due to COVID).

The bottom line: Pandemic-era restaurant closures were gut-wrenching for owners, patrons and communities.

  • But if this new nationwide Yelp data is any indication, maybe COVID-19's impact on the restaurant business was something like a wildfire, clearing out space for new growth in a changed environment.

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