U.S. Restaurant Openings Quicken, Hinting at Rebound Taking Hold

New restaurants continued to open last year at a relatively fast pace despite the pandemic, data released Tuesday show.

By the fourth quarter of 2020, the rate of openings fell just 4% compared with the year before, according to data compiled by Yelp Inc., which books online restaurant reservations and posts business reviews. More than 18,200 eating establishments — including restaurants, farmers markets and food trucks — opened during the period.

For the full year, U.S. food-service launches were down just 16%, despite falling 40% in the second quarter when much of the country was in lockdown. In October 2020, 12 more restaurants were opened than in the same month of the prior year.

“Yelp’s data has shown early signs that local economies may finally be on the mend,” said Justin Norman, Yelp’s vice president of data science.

Recent restaurant openings feature more outdoor space, less table density and designs emphasizing efficiency, according to the report.

Aside from restaurants, entrepreneurs started more professional and home services in 2020 than 2019, according to Yelp. Last quarter, for instance, landscaping (3,123 openings), painters (2,789 openings), handymen (2,242 openings), and flooring businesses (1,319 openings) were among the major new-business launches.

“As people spent more time at home, we observed home, local, professional and auto services end the year with a higher number of new openings in December than years prior,” Norman said.

Aside from new-business launches, many existing firms had to reopen more than once. Since March, 173,727 businesses reopened once after a temporary closing; 38,702 reopened twice; and 17,780 firms reopened three times or more, according to the report. Most of these were in food services, retail and health and beauty sectors.

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