25 Percent Of U.S. Restaurants Won’t Reopen, OpenTable Says

Written by Dana Sanchez
One in four U.S. restaurants — including some you’d least expect — won’t survive the coronavirus pandemic or reopen due to quarantines and lockdowns Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

One in four U.S. restaurants — including some you’d least expect — will not survive the coronavirus pandemic due to quarantines and lockdowns, according to a forecast by online reservation service OpenTable.

Total reservations and walk-in customers from OpenTable’s network were down 95 percent on May 13 compared to the same day a year ago based on a survey of 20,000 of Open Table’s 60,000 customers, Bloomberg reported.

About 9.6 million Americans worked in food service in 2019. Covid-19 has been devastating for them and restaurant owners, who lost $30 billion in sales in March and $50 billion in April, according to National Restaurant Association estimates.

David Chang’s Momofuku (“lucky peach” in Japanese) announced on Thursday that it’s closing two restaurants for good — Nishi in Manhattan, and Momofuku CCDC, in Washington, D.C. Chang owns more than a dozen restaurants around the world that have won too many awards to mention.

“This crisis has exposed the underlying vulnerabilities of our industry and made clear that returning to normal is not an option,” Momofuku said on its website.

Plenty of restaurants — even well-funded ones occupying expensive real estate — may not survive the restaurant closures, Chicago Eater reported. Those that do survive will have to navigate customers’ fears in a world without a vaccine. From wealthy diners to the essential workers who feed them, no one is immune.

Cliff Rome is the chef-owner of Peach’s in Bronzeville, a historic district in the south side of Chicago. An Englewood native, Rome is a Spago veteran who’s opened five food-service and event businesses in Bronzeville and re-invested in the South Side.

“Every goal (Rome) sets builds on a bedrock of conscious re-investment in the South Side,” Chicago Eater reported.

Rome runs a nonprofit mentoring program called Mise En Place, offering four-week courses in basic hospitality training. When COVID-19 hit, Rome closed his restaurants, had his accountant file aid applications, and started implementing his nonprofit’s principles in his own space.

“The training piece doesn’t care what color you are or how old you are; everybody can benefit from having their pencils a little sharper,” Rome said. “As we turn that corner, you gotta be looking down the block, or you’re going to close. For us, this is about helping the small businesses that are institutions in their own communities become cornerstones that are unbreakable by creating a stronger foundation of better-trained individuals.”

Steve Hafner, CEO of Booking Holdings (which owns Open Table) and travel site Kayak, told Bloomberg that getting restaurants up and running again is a challenge.

“Restaurants are complicated beasts,” he said. “You have to order food and supplies. You have to make sure you’ve prepped the kitchen and service areas to be easily disinfected.” To compound that, it’s hard to hire people who may be risking their lives, especially if their unemployment benefits and stimulus payments may provide more stable income than hourly wages and tips.

“A lot of people are making $1,200 a week doing nothing,” Hafner said. “That’s good pay.”

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Other restaurants lost to the coronavirus pandemic include soup buffet chain Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, Marketwatch reported.

However, Open Table data shows signs that people are starting to be willing to dine out again. In states such as Arizona and Texas where restaurants are allowed to reopen, the numbers are creeping up, but they’re still far below where they were last year.

Scottsdale had zero reservations almost every day since March 21, but on May 13 it was down 72 percent instead of 100 percent compared to the same day in 2019. Other significant recoveries were in Houston and Phoenix.

Florida, which began a phased reopening on May 4, has shown the highest statewide gain, reporting restaurant foot traffic down 83 percent year-on-year. Florida restaurants are allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity, according to Bloomberg.