Data Shows NYC Restaurants Struggle To Return To Pre-Pandemic Numbers

During the height of the pandemic, were you more likely to cook at home or order delivery instead of going out to eat? If so, you'd be like many Americans, who pivoted dining habits towards home delivery and pickup, according to Restaurant Business, as well as making from-scratch meals far more often than pre-pandemic (via Food Dive). As the country went through lockdowns and curfews, many diners looked forward to restrictions easing and the opportunity to continue to sip coffee in a café or to sit down to a restaurant meal, but data has shown that some restaurants have been slow to recover from an unimagined blow that closed some 70,300 eateries, according to an analysis by The Washington Post in June.

Even as more and more restaurants were recovering from the greatly reduced food traffic experienced at the height of the pandemic and an increasing number of Americans have said they are increasingly comfortable returning to dining out (via Morning Consult), another complication came down like a sledgehammer for eateries: inflation. According to NPR, establishments that just barely survived the COVID=19 pandemic are now being put through the wringer by sky-high prices on food, rent, labor, gasoline, and cooking gas — costs that diners, too, are facing, making them less likely to eat out as they carefully plan their budgets. 

For all these reasons, it's perhaps not surprising that in one of the dining capitals of the world, New York City, restaurants are nowhere near returning to their pre-pandemic levels of foot traffic.

NYC bar and restaurant foot traffic began to free-fall in January 2020

All of us remember how quickly life changed in January, February, and March 2020 as the pandemic took hold in the U.S. and we modified our lifestyles. These changes deeply affected the restaurant industry, and according to data compiled by Tasting Table, the effect was clear in the case of New York City bars and restaurants. Starting in January, foot traffic plummeted, going from a reduction of 2% in that month to a whopping 83% reduction by April. Throughout 2020 and into 2021 — in spite of the New York accommodations for diners, including government-supported Open Restaurants, which allowed eateries to convert sidewalk space into open-air dining areas (via — foot traffic trended low, only starting to slowly increase by February and March 2021 after going through a series of ups and downs in 2020.

Although many of us have mostly returned to our pre-pandemic routines, foot traffic remains low at NYC restaurants. In January 2022, traditionally a slow month for restaurants due to penny-pinching after the increased expenses of the winter holidays (via FSR), foot traffic was down a predictable 63% — but it failed to increase much in February and March, only reaching 57% and 49% down, respectively.

Inflation is definitely taking a toll on bars and restaurants country-wide, according to Morning Consult. In a survey of over 1,100 American adults published in June, 84% reported dining out less often and 76% reported going to bars less often, due to adjusting budgets due to inflation.