The pandemic is not over—COVID still exists and Americans are still getting it—but most of the quarantine regulations are lifting. You can see people’s faces again! And go out to eat. And, oh boy, have Americans been eating out. Forget sourdough and improving our cooking skills: MarketWatch reports that in May 2021, sales at restaurants and bars reached an all-time high of $67.3 billion. The previous high was $66.3 billion in January 2020.
All this despite labor and supply shortages and limited seating. Americans want their restaurant food, and they want it now.
(Oh, and about that: if you adjust for inflation, May 2021 restaurant sales were actually a smidge below those of January 2020. But that doesn’t sound as good.)
There are a few reasons for this, says MarketWatch, besides American claustrophobia. (That’s the name of my Great Pandemic Novel by the way. Or Out of An Abundance of Caution.) We have 15 months of restaurant money that’s been burning a hole in our pockets, plus stimulus payments and tax refunds. OpenTable reports an all-time high in reservations for May.
These numbers are only expected to grow with the warm weather—patios!!!—and the looser regulations. This has been confirmed by an actual economist, Lydia Boussour of Oxford Economics: “Sales at restaurants and bars continued to benefit from the warmer weather and looser business restrictions,” she said.
But there’s always some bad news, and here it is: there are more than 100,000 fewer restaurants now than there were before the pandemic and there are 1.48 million fewer restaurant workers. That means that a lot of beloved places no longer exist to go back to, and that many restaurants that are open are short-staffed. So be kind. Be patient. Hold onto your money and spend it wisely, all summer long.