Restaurant data show U.S. economy is recovering after Covid closures

Linda Silvetti serves Bart Whitehead as the Floridian restaurant opens on May 18, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

New data on the pace of restaurant reservations show that the national decline in bookings is starting to slow, a development that could suggest that the food service industry and the broader U.S. economy may have already endured the worst of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Though statistics provided by online reservation platform OpenTable for May 26 show that the number of seated diners at its participating restaurants nationwide is down an eye-popping 85% compared to this time last year, that is still far better than the 100% slide observed as recently as earlier this month and throughout April.

The comeback in OpenTable reservations isn’t spread evenly across the country, however, as each state takes a different tact in reopening portions of their economies.  

States including Alabama, Arizona and Nebraska, which have approved restaurants to reopen with restrictions, are seeing more mild declines in bookings on OpenTable.

Reservations in other states like New York and New Jersey that have been harder hit by the virus and introduced stricter business closures to slow the spread of the disease are still down 100% compared to this time last year. 

But even early signs that U.S. consumers are willing to book restaurant tables are good news for Wall Street investors, who have for weeks only been able to guess at how quick patrons might return after state restrictions ease. If diners return in numbers and faster than expected, the sector, and the U.S. economy, may in turn see a faster return to growth.

Traders have pointed to reopening optimism for the U.S. stock market’s robust week-to-date rally with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 up 3.1% and 1.5%, respectively. Stocks that could benefit the most under a full U.S. reopening led the gains on Wall Street both Tuesday and Wednesday with American Airlines, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Gap all up about 20% over the two sessions.

A comeback in booking would also come as welcome relief to U.S. food service workers, who’ve suffered the brunt of layoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to the Department of Labor’s most-recent monthly jobs report, the leisure and hospitality sector (of which food service is part) lost 7.7 million during the month of April. That number represented 47% of total positions.

The vast majority of the industry’s layoffs were in food service, where the government said nearly 5.5 million chefs, waiters, cashiers and other restaurant staff lost employment.

Clarification: fixed a “data load issue” Wednesday evening that had impacted the number of bookings in its May 26 tally.

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