Feb 5, 2024 - Food and Drink

Salt Lake area restaurants are bouncing back

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

The number of new restaurant listings in the Salt Lake metro area rose about 8% between 2019 and 2023, according to new Yelp data shared with Axios.

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.

By the numbers: 215 restaurants were newly listed on Yelp in 2023 in the Salt Lake area, compared to 200 in 2019.

  • New businesses overall rose 36% from 2019.

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 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.

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 of Yelp's restaurants division.

  • "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 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).

Be smart: Just because a restaurant is new, doesn't mean there's a newbie at the helm.

  • At least some of these new openings are likely the product of someone who's been at it once or twice before, and is taking a fresh swing under changed circumstances.

The bottom line: Obviously, 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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