New data from Yelp has shown that diners are returning to restaurants in droves, flocking to dining rooms in 2022 as the memory of heightened pandemic fears and restrictions fades. That has brought its own problems, though, as complaints about short-staffed restaurants have soared.
The new state of the industry report found that customers have been making far more reservations and unplanned visits this year than last.
In fact, that’s something of an understatement.
Searches for indoor dining in Q1 2022 were up by a remarkable 6,360 per cent compared to the same period two years ago. Back then, of course, the pandemic didn’t hit in earnest until right at the end of the first quarter of 2020, so the option to eat inside was a given.
Many more customers are also specifying a desire to sit outside, with searches for outdoor dining up more than 1,000 per cent over the past two years. Meanwhile, searches for reservations on Yelp rose 107 per cent year over year in Q1 2022 as people looked to get out and about again, even as COVID-19 case counts remained high well into February.
Those searches are resulting in more visits to restaurants, with the NPD Group observing that dine-in restaurant visits were up 38 per cent during the first quarter compared to a 45 per cent decline a year ago. Overall, 13 million diners were seated through Yelp in Q1, a 48 per cent year-over-year increase.
Takeout below pandemic peak, but still popular
That seismic shift back to on-premise dining appears to have taken a bite out of the off-premise side of things that swelled in prominence during the pandemic. Searches for takeout were down 31 per cent in the first quarter, but are still up 107 per cent vs. 2020 and 144 per cent vs. 2019.
The NPD data showed that off-premise traffic is indeed on the decline, decreasing nine per cent during the first quarter versus an increase of 24 per cent during the same period in 2021.
Diners noticing labour pressures
One key conclusion was that many of those diners who have returned to restaurants are noticing the effects of labour pressures on short-staffed restaurants.
Diners report experiencing smaller staffs and longer waits at a higher frequency, and those issues ae showing up more often in reviews. Mentions of short-staffed restaurants soared by more than 229 per cent YOY while reports of long wait times increased 23 per cent.
Per a report last month, job vacancies in accommodation and foodservice surged 37 per cent to 158,100 positions at the beginning of March, and the vacancy rate in the industry was 12.8 per cent, the highest among the 20 industry groups that Statistics Canada monitors. Restaurants Canada warned that restaurant staff vacancies will rise to 210,000 across the country over the next months.
Yelp found that short-staffed restaurants are looking to mitigate worker losses by limiting their operational hours, menus, and tables. They’re also using more technology to automate certain front-of-house tasks like check-in and waitlisting to free up hosts.
Diners noticing higher prices, but not baulking
While customers are noticing higher menu prices, with mentions of price bumps up 25 per cent YOY amid soaring inflation, that doesn’t appear to be turning them off. Yelp noted that many are actually using the site to search for higher-priced restaurants.
They are also looking for experiential concepts like conveyor sushi (up 500 per cent YOY), dinner theatre (up 240 per cent), supper clubs (up 200 per cent), and themed cafes (up 75 per cent).
Read the full report here.