Diverged landscape of restaurant recovery: the effect of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry in the United States

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed catastrophic impacts on the restaurant industry as a crucial socioeconomic sector that contributes immensely to the global economy. However, what remains incomplete is our quantitative understanding of how the restaurant industry was recovered from COVID-19 in terms of restaurant visitations and revenue, customers’ origins as well as the relationship between restaurant visitations and travel distances. Existing studies in the context of COVID-19 mainly reply on survey data and cannot reveal the changing spectrum of the restaurant industry at a large spatial and temporal scale. Here we construct a spatially explicit evaluation of the effect of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry in the United States, drawing on the attributes of +200,000 restaurants from Yelp and +600 million individual-level restaurant visitations provided by SafeGraph from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2021. We produce quantitative evidence of lost restaurant visitations and revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes in the areal characteristics of customers’ origins, and the retained visitation law of human mobility-the number of restaurant visitations decreases as the inverse square of their travel distances-though such a distance-decay effect varies across metropolitan areas and becomes marginal at the later stage of the pandemic. Our findings support policy makers to monitor economic relief and design place-based policies for economic recovery.

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