Yelp Report Correlates Reopening of Restaurants to Rising COVID-19 Cases

Miss bars? Well, don't seek them out on Yelp then. Or don't go. One of the two.
Miss bars? Well, don't seek them out on Yelp then. Or don't go. One of the two. Lauren Drewes Daniels
Wednesday, Yelp released its Economic Average Findings for the second quarter of 2020, which analyzed user interest on their platform and, in part, compared it to COVID-19 cases. Yelp says it has compiled data over time to uncover trends “including a correlation between interest in restaurants, bars and nightlife and gyms to a spike in COVID-19 cases across the hot spot states.” 

The “consumer interest” data are for May and the COVID-19 cases are for June. Basically, you just had to have that bowl of borscht and then you got sick a couple of weeks later. 

Following are some of the key findings of the report.

As people started waking up from their pandemic hibernation and getting back to their “pre-pandemic activities,” specifically in states such as Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Georgia, “a clear spike in COIVD-19 cases within those locations quickly followed.” 

Further, “Yelp data shows a statistically significant correlation between an increase of consumer interest in these activities in May and an increase in COVID-19 cases in June.” 

• Texas had a 67% increase in consumer interest in May and a 283% increase in cases in June. 
• Florida had a 104% increase in consumer interest in May and a 529% increase in cases in June. 
• South Carolina had the largest increase in consumer interest in May: 132%. Subsequently, they saw a 304% increase in cases in June. 
• Maine had a 10% decrease in consumer interest in May (the only decrease) and a 6% increase in cases. 
• New York saw a 1% increase in consumer interest in May and a 49% decrease in COVID-19 cases in June. 

Recently, New York City restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining only. However, WABC reported this week that the New York State Liquor Authority suspended 27 licenses statewide and brought 410 charges against establishments for overcrowding and not following regulations. In New York City, bars and restaurants both operate under the same license, whereas in Texas, they are separate. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the intention was to open outdoor dining only, but not bars. After all the recent citations, Cuomo is threatening to rollback the reopening if they don't get their act together. 

The Yelp report also looked at business closures. The restaurant industry has the highest total of permanent businesses shuttering, recently surpassing retail. There have been 26,160 restaurants that have closed across the country through July 10; 60% of those are permanent and 40% are temporary. 

Bars and nightclubs have been hit the hardest: "Meanwhile, bars and nightlife, an industry 6 [times] smaller than restaurants, have endured an especially high closure rate, with 5,454 total business closures, 2,429 (44%) of which are permanent closures," according to the Yelp report.

From May 25 to July 10, searches specifically for Black-owned restaurants were up 2,508%. Black-owned bakeries and ice cream shops were up also 56%. 

In the Dallas area, the Facebook group “DFW Black Owned Restaurants” has amassed almost a quarter million members since its inception June 3. 

Some other interesting data points simply beg more questions. Since June 1, across the nation: 

• There’s been a 52% increase in interest in Russian food and 28% in tapas bars. 
• Fast food and chicken wings are both down (-16% and -15%, respectively). 
• Interest in dance clubs is down 48%. 
• Interest in ax-throwing is up 50%.
• Sandwiches are strong: They’re on a “sustained increased interest” trajectory since March 1.  

The one thing we can all agree on, consistently, is sandwiches. It’s a start. 
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.