Feb 6, 2024 - News

San Diego's restaurant industry is still in recovery mode

Data: Yelp; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of new restaurant listings in the San Diego metro area fell by 5.4% from 2019 to 2023, according to new Yelp data shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Restaurants are more than just places to eat — they're gathering spots, vital employers and keys to the cultural fabric that makes cities unique.

What's happening: The local restaurant industry is slowly but steadily recovering with more restaurant openings, but it hasn't bounced back to pre-pandemic levels like it has nationally.

By the numbers: 742 restaurants were newly listed on Yelp in 2023 in the San Diego area, compared to 784 in 2019 and 698 in 2022.

  • Meanwhile, San Diego's new businesses overall rose 2.7% from 2019 to nearly 10,350.

Zoom in: Last year, local eateries, pizza joints and chefs gained national recognition, but rising rent, labor and food costs made it difficult for restaurateurs to turn a profit, the Union-Tribune reported.

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 COVID-19, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • Nearly 53,800 restaurants opened across the country last year, up 10% from 2022 and up 2% from 2019.
  • "The restaurant industry [is] seeing higher restaurant openings in 2023 than pre-pandemic levels for the first time," says Clifford Cate, vice president and general manager for restaurants at Yelp.

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'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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