The New York City Economy Tracker: April 10, 2023

Investopedia’s biweekly updates tracking the health of New York City’s economy

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The New York City Economy Tracker is a joint project between Investopedia and NY1, using publicly available data to evaluate the economic health of the city across a variety of metrics.

For the week of April 10, 2023, we’re looking at the city’s restaurants, tracking the change in reservations, employment in the industry, and the number of establishments since the initial wave of pandemic lockdowns over three years ago brought the industry to a standstill.

Dining Reservations Still Lag Pre-Pandemic Levels Considerably

As of early March, reservations at New York City restaurants still lag pre-pandemic levels by just under 30%, according to OpenTable data. The city’s restaurants have made little progress in bringing back diners so far this year and have even backtracked compared to December, when reservations stood at 29.1% below pre-pandemic levels. Lagging reservations in New York City have dragged down the statewide average, which currently lags pre-pandemic levels by 21%. By comparison, reservations at New Jersey restaurants are now 0.7% above their pre-pandemic baseline, while those at Connecticut restaurants are now 21% higher.

Employment at Restaurants Has Recovered Faster Than Demand

While reservations have lagged, employment in the city’s restaurant industry has recovered at a faster pace and is closing in on pre-pandemic levels. According to data from the New York State Department of Labor, the city’s restaurants employed an estimated 148,100 workers as of February, which lags by 9% compared to 2019 levels, when an estimated 162,900 workers were employed by the industry.

By comparison, restaurant reservations—a proxy for industry demand—lagged pre-pandemic levels by 33% in February, suggesting demand has recovered at a far slower pace.

Employment in the restaurant industry has consistently been more resilient than demand, ever since the initial lockdowns in the spring of 2020. While the recovery in reservations has often been sporadic and inconsistent over the past three years, experiencing a major setback during the omicron surge in late 2021 and early 2022, the recovery in jobs has been more stable. This can be attributed to restaurant owners’ higher confidence and the cushion provided by assistance programs such as the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund that prevented further large-scale layoffs.

Manhattan Leads Major Boroughs in Loss of Dining Establishments

In terms of the number of restaurants open today compared to pre-pandemic levels, there are stark differences between the city’s five boroughs. As of the third quarter of 2022, Staten Island and the Bronx had more dining establishments than before the pandemic, with respective gains of 3.8% and 1.9%, according to data from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Queens and Brooklyn still had fewer dining establishments than before the pandemic, lagging their pre-pandemic baselines by 0.8% and 2.1%, respectively. However, nowhere has the loss in establishments been as pronounced as in Manhattan.

Manhattan shed 7.6% of its dining establishments between the third quarter of 2019 and the same quarter of 2022. The loss has been devastating for Manhattan’s restaurant industry, as the borough accounts for roughly 45% of all restaurants and dining establishments citywide. In fact, as of the third quarter of last year, Manhattan accounted for almost 86% of the remaining gap in establishments, and 93% of the gap in workers compared to pre-pandemic levels. These figures are a testimony of the borough’s vitality to the city’s restaurant industry, and how a full recovery of the industry will depend on the trajectory in Manhattan over the coming weeks and months.

Article Sources
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  1. New York State Department of Labor. "Current Employment Statistics: Overview."

  2. U.S. Small Business Administration. "Restaurant Revitalization Fund."

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages."

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