Feb 2, 2024 - Business

Seattle restaurants are still on life support, while others rebound

New restaurants on Yelp per 100k people, 2023
Data: Yelp; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Washington's restaurant industry is showing signs of growth, although Seattle restaurants are still struggling.

Why it matters: Restaurants are more than places to grab a meal — they're community gathering spots, vital employers across the socioeconomic spectrum and part of the cultural fabric that makes cities unique.

By the numbers: The number of new restaurant listings in the Seattle area rose 11% between 2019 and 2023, per recent Yelp data shared with Axios.

  • In 2023, 756 restaurants were newly listed on Yelp in the Seattle area, compared to 684 in 2019.

Yes but: Those numbers don't distinguish between what's happening in the suburbs and what's happening in Seattle's urban core, Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, told Axios.

  • Data from Washington's Department of Revenue shows that statewide, the number of restaurants filing state sales taxes rose 5.6% between 2019 and 2023, he said.
  • But in Seattle proper, the number of restaurants filing taxes last year was 5.4% below pre-pandemic levels, per the hospitality association's analysis of the state data.
  • The opposite was true for south King County, which saw an 11% jump.

What they're saying: Urban restaurants that depend on downtown business traffic and convention travel have not fully recovered from the pandemic, Anton said.

  • But neighborhood restaurants and those in the suburbs are doing better — a symptom of people working remotely and going downtown less often, he said.

The big picture: Nationally, restaurant openings are up 2% from 2019, per the Yelp data.

  • Clifford Cate, vice president and general manager of Yelp's restaurant division, said the restaurant industry has proven itself "resilient" partly by "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, month and year.

  • Many existing owners struggle with high food, rent and labor costs. Rookies will face those same headwinds.
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