Interest to Eat Out Back to Pre-pandemic Levels
Updated: this article was updated to include state- and city-level data for the past seven days (June 23rd through June 29th).
The number of Americans looking to eat out has surged in the last two weeks, according to Google Trends data, as the country continues to reopen, bringing numbers near to pre-coronavirus levels.
Google data shows that searches for “restaurants” and “restaurants near me” have spiked recently and are close, and for some states even above pre-pandemic levels.
At the same time, online searches for recipes have declined as the novelty of creative home cooking has worn off. Searches for recipes were at an all-time high during the lockdown period, surpassing even the busy holiday season.
Then, for the first time ever, in the second week of March the number of searches for recipes skyrocketed in one month up to holiday season levels. But as the number of searches of restaurants rose from the middle of April, so interest in online recipes began to decline.
17 M Searches for Restaurants Near Me Per Month
16.6 million searches are performed in Google every month by patrons looking for restaurants nearby, which makes Google data a reliable indicator of the nation’s interest in dining out.
Moreover, Google Trends data shows consistent seasonal patterns over the years with the volume of searches high during the late spring and early summer months, dropping in fall then peaking in December.
All that is normal dissolved of course with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. These searches plummeted to a record low, half the normal pre-Christmas slump, at the end of March across the country.
Since the middle of June, however, there has been a steep surge in the numbers of people across the country seeking to dine out. So steep in fact that it is nearing the figures we would expect in normal times.
Top Cities Where Eating Out Was Most Popular in the Past 7 Days
The cities with the highest ratio of restaurant searches over the past seven days are all tourist hot spots. The beach towns of Panama City, FL, and Orange Beach, AL were the two most popular, followed by Myrtle Beach, SC.
Unfortunately, most of these cities have registered rising cases in Covid 19 over the past few days, forcing many restaurants to shut down again.
Nationwide figures vary, of course, and there are wide differences among the states. The people most itching to dine in town are the good people of South Carolina. With a rating of 100 they top the list. Next comes Alabama (79), Georgia (77), Tennessee (77), Florida (72), and Michigan (72).
Other states are being much more cautious. New York, having been hardest hit, comes among the last with a very low 35.
Good and Bad News
The trend is both encouraging and worrying at the same time. The restaurant industry was hit very badly and many restaurants are on the brink of bankruptcy. Restaurants need every bit of business they can get as hundreds of thousands of jobs remain at risk.
However, many states are experiencing a steady growth in Covid-19 cases and there is noticeable overlap between those and the ones where people are going out more (a New York Times graphic shows how each state is doing as they begin to open up).
After opening up fast in South Carolina, Charleston is now seeing a big spike in coronavirus cases meaning for one restauranteur, “We came back hard and fast, but it’s looking like a lot of places shuttering up again. There’s a big spike right now in Charleston, South Carolina.”
The restaurant trade was one of the first sectors to be allowed to open across the country, yet just as they opened, many establishments then reclosed.
One restauranteur in Baton Rouge complained on Reddit that customers are being irresponsible. The Tigerland area of student bars shut down last Saturday morning when 100 Covid-19 cases were recorded after just one week’s worth of trading, cases that include many among staff.
Not to be put off their liquor, rather than stay home, students shifted their custom to the Overpass area, taking the virus with them.
A bar worker in Florida complains that the public are not taking safety seriously. “Every damn weekend we are bombarded with hundreds of people who don’t care about social distancing. Not a single person seems to understand how viruses work.”
With so much contradictory advice on what to do about the virus, perhaps it is not surprising some people say “what the heck”.
Eater reports that restaurants are re-closing across the country. In California restaurants reopened on May 22. Despite being one of the lowest states for “restaurants near me” searches, many have been forced to close to deep clean and sanitize as the number of Covid-19 cases increases.
Restaurant workers are understandably desperate to get back to work, though some are concerned about being exposed to the virus. But opening and then closing does nothing to create confidence in the sector or job security.
There are signs the public are eager to get out again. But with the number of Covid-19 cases still rising in many states, the pandemic and the loss of income it is causing many in the hospitality business is far from over.