Ask George: How does the number of restaurant openings and closings in 2020 compare with 2019?

Ask George: How does the number of restaurant openings and closings in 2020 compare with 2019?

How does the number of restaurant openings and closings in 2020 compare with 2019?  —Jason R., St. Louis

One thing we know for sure: Restaurateurs don’t ever want to experience another year like 2020. The initial March closings, the anxieties of reopening, and the myriad uncertainties along the way all took their toll.

From a numbers standpoint, it was a year of surprises, both good and bad. The National Restaurant Association reported that 110,000 of the nation’s restaurants, or approximately 16 percent total, have permanently closed, with 10,000 shuttering in the past three months.

For more than a decade, SLM has logged restaurant openings and closings in the metro area and continues to publish a list tracking these changes every month. Since it consists primarily of locally owned restaurants (and includes reopenings and even food trucks), we admit that it’s an incomplete, inexact exercise. That said, the results have been consistent over the years, with approximately two restaurant opening in metro St. Louis for every closing. 

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In a year filled with mayhem, one would think those numbers would have swung in the other direction—but they didn’t.

While there were more openings in March 2019 than March 2020 (59 vs. 21), the number of closings remained almost the same (22 vs. 23). From July through October, the number of closings remained the same in both years. Yet there were far more openings in 2020 than in 2019 (72 vs. 48).

The totals for the end of 2020 are nothing short of remarkable. While there were ultimately fewer openings in 2020 than in 2019 (135 vs. 158), there were also fewer closings (75 vs. 81), which no one would have guessed.

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The National Restaurant Association also noted that 37 percent of restaurants said it’s “unlikely” that they will still be open six months from now without any additional government help, a stat which was generated before such help was announced in late December.

Restaurants are far from being out of the woods, but—tilting the glass to half full—St. Louis restaurants are operating at reduced capacity during the slowest months of the year. And by the time a new patio season dawns next spring, hopefully we’ll have started to regain some sense of normalcy.

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