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Food

Restaurant booking websites report ‘severe’ double-digit declines as diners stay home

Interior of Angler restaurant
Employees prepare for service inside Angler in September. On Friday, the Beverly Center restaurant said it would temporarily close during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Restaurant booking websites on Friday shared data confirming what many owners and chefs have reported seeing firsthand in dining rooms across the city: An increasing number of diners are staying home as concerns over the coronavirus outbreak continue to grow.

OpenTable posted data that showed restaurants using its platform had seen a “severe reduction” in the number of online reservations, phone reservations and walk-ins this week. In Los Angeles, the number of seated diners has been down every day since March 7 compared with the same day a year earlier.

“Things seem to be getting worse quickly,” OpenTable Chief Operating Officer Andrea Johnston said in a statement. On Thursday, “the U.S., UK and Canada all declined by around 30%.”

To contend with the rapid spread of novel coronavirus, restaurant owners and chefs in Los Angeles are adopting strict measures to prevent the spread of germs — and to keep business running as normally as possible.
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Across the country, OpenTable reported a 20% reduction in total seated diners compared with the same week last year. At the city level, weekly diners were down approximately 25% in Los Angeles, 45% in Seattle, 40% in San Francisco and 30% in New York.

Nick Kokonas, chief executive of the high-end restaurant reservation platform Tock, tweeted data from his company that showed a slight decline in bookings starting several weeks ago, then a sharp drop in the last week; new bookings are down roughly 22% compared with the previous month. He also noted that cancellations had spiked to four times normal levels.

Another major reservations-booking company, requesting anonymity due to client privacy concerns, said that restaurant covers — the number of diners — in Los Angeles dropped 25% on Thursday compared with the Thursday prior, and 42% compared with the same day in 2019 — a sobering plunge in business.

During mandated dine-in closures, these restaurants are offering takeout and delivery as the coronavirus pandemic keeps Los Angeles close to home.

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The company also observed that advance reservations for the coming week were only slightly lower than average, but warned of a possible repeat of high cancellation rates — up to 27% for a recent night in the city — seen this week.

On its website, OpenTable shared strategies that restaurants could use to cope with downturns in business: reaching out to guests directly, preparing staff and encouraging diners to reschedule rather than cancel.

The company also recommended ways consumers could support local restaurants without necessarily dining out, including ordering delivery or takeout, purchasing gift certificates or booking prepaid reservations far in advance.


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