Oregon Insight: Restaurant recovery stalls

Here’s The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past installments here.

It’s been just over two months since Oregon began allowing diners to resume eating in restaurants, under limited conditions designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Restaurants enjoyed a sharp uptick in business in the first several weeks they reopened, according to online reservation data. And new state jobs data out this past week shows restaurants recalled more than 21,000 workers in June.

In recent weeks, though, the pace of recovery has stalled. Data from the online reservation system Open Table indicates the number of people eating out has barely budged in the past month, down nearly two-thirds from this time last year.

And in Portland, where restaurants reopened later, the pace of recovery has been much slower. Open Table says online reservations are down about 80% from a year ago and aren’t growing.

Open Table is just one data point, of course, and it’s hard to know whether it’s truly representative of what restaurants are experiencing. People may still be eating out, for example, but making fewer online reservations.

And many people continue to order for take-out or delivery, business that isn’t captured in the online reservation data.

Still, the fact that Open Table’s numbers aren’t changing suggests a kind of ceiling to the restaurant industry’s recovery – at least for now. Even with June’s spike in hiring, Oregon restaurant employment is down by a third from the same month in 2019.

The immediate future of the dining sector is tied to the rate of coronavirus infections, and the sharp rise in outbreaks could further reduce people’s willingness to eat out.

The restaurant sector’s numbers tell a broader economic story: Even as governments allow businesses to reopen, many people won’t return to pre-pandemic behavior until they’re convinced it’s safe to do so.

So while Oregon enjoyed a sharp economic rebound in May and June, recovering a third of the initial jobs lost to the epidemic, the future of that recovery depends on renewed progress on in controlling the pandemic.

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | twitter: @rogoway |

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