Are things looking up on the American dining scene? Possibly. Credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has just upgraded its restaurant industry prognosis from “negative” to “stable,” as seating capacity limits and other restrictions are being lifted around the U.S.
In addition, surprisingly enough, new restaurants continue to open, even as COVID-19 cases spike in many parts of the country. According to a Yelp Q3 Economic Average report, approximately 6,600 eating places debuted each month in August and September — about the same number as last year.
Some restaurants are even coming back from the dead. For instance, the 27-year-old late-night L.A. diner Swingers, which was included in 24/7 Tempo’s list of permanent closures after it shut down in April, has just reopened under new owners.
That’s the good news. On the other hand, before the pandemic hit, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) predicted that 2020 sales across all food service categories would reach almost $900 billion. It now looks like that figure will be closer to $660 billion, a substantial shortfall. And even as new places open, many popular restaurants of every kind continue to close their doors permanently, from fast food outlets to neighborhood coffee shops to bistros and temples of haute cuisine. We might start seeing closings even among the highest rated restaurants in America.
Longevity is no protection from the effects of the COVID-19 downturn. Austin’s 40-year-old vegetarian icon Mother’s Café and Garden has served its last vegan tofu lasagna; the 99-year-old Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles has grilled its last rib eye. Celebrity chefs can’t always keep the lights on, either: Wolfgang Puck has just shut down his third restaurant for pandemic-related reasons.
Popular family-oriented cafeteria chains like Luby’s in Texas and Country Cookin in Virginia have gone out of business, too, and the nationwide Ruby Tuesday’s chain has filed for bankruptcy and is closing some 185 locations. (It isn’t just restaurants that are in trouble, of course. These are American businesses that might not survive the coronavirus.)
Since May, 24/7 Tempo has been tracking permanent restaurant closures across the country, with biweekly updates. This latest report covers popular establishments in 26 states. Those whose major cities have particularly vibrant food scenes — like California, Illinois, and New York — seem to have been affected disproportionately. Every state has suffered, however, and more permanent closings, unfortunately, will continue to be added to this list.