Restaurant Trends in 2021 that I Have Seen

Restaurant Trends in 2021

How the Pandemic and Other Factors Have Changed the Restaurant Industry (And How They Have Not)


Part of the blog is the Restaurant Guide which includes a list of restaurants in various towns and cities throughout the Southwest and adjacent states. It started as a way for me to have a quick reference to restaurants I might like to visit when I travel to various places. It has since expanded to a list that is so long I could never hope to visit all these restaurants, but they include ones that I think would be of interest to readers. I have attempted to explain the methodology on these posts, but the main one is that if there are cuisines available with multiple restaurants serving it, I try to find the most authentic or representative of the food, the ones that specialize in certain dishes, or the ones with the best reviews.

I have already tested the list by making trips to Colorado, Louisiana, and other places. However, whether my methodology turns out to be good or not, I have gleaned quite a bit of information about restaurants by doing this research. I was striving to keep the information about each restaurant up to date every two or three years (and I post the date it was last updated). In 2019 I had the list updated to the point that the majority of listings were current within at least the last twelve months. In 2020 I had a very hard time finding current information about restaurants and whether they were open or not. Now in 2021 I believe I am finding accurate information about the status of most restaurants.
A by-product of this exercise is that I have noticed several trends, which is the subject of this article. These are generalizations, but I think they help explain the experiences many people have when they go to restaurants at the current time:
  • Restaurant Closings: There have been a number of closings and I believe the number has been higher than average for a typical two year period (in this case I was looking at the period from 2019 to 2021). However, the number has not been as high as I expected from hearing many predictions that a large number of restaurants would be forced to close because of the pandemic. I did not see a pattern of more closings in certain states, and in fact there was not really a strong patter at all geographically. For cities, I think there were more closures in medium sized cities such as Tucson than in larger cities. I noticed a lot of closures in rural Kansas and rural areas of other states, but I think the rural area everywhere is suffering and I just happened to have more rural restaurants listed in Kansas than I did in other states. Overall, though, I would say that 75 to 80 percent of the restaurants that were listed in 2019 are still open, and that in any two year period there would be a certain amount of restaurants that would close.
  • Restaurants with Multiple Locations: A higher percentage of closings had to do with restaurants that had more than one location. It seems that many of these have now consolidated into one restaurant or into a limited number of locations. Surprisingly, though, it seems that many of them are operating out of what was their smaller location (either the “express” version or the “No. 2” restaurant). I think this has to do more about the amount of traffic they had at each location and not necessarily the size of the building. I would guess that in many cases the No. 1 restaurant was downtown or in the inner city, while No. 2 would be in the suburbs or closer to where there was more activity during the time when many people were no longer going to their offices but were mainly going to places near their residence.
  • Hours of Operation: This is by far the biggest change I have noticed in the update of the list to 2021. Restaurants are cutting back the number of days they are open and the number of hours each day they are operating. The most common hours that have been cut back are in the evening, with “late night” hours being mostly a thing of the past. The “24 hour” restaurants are mostly gone. Some restaurants that were known for their breakfast have eliminated their dinner hours, while some steak and fine dining restaurants have eliminated lunch.
  • Dine-In and Takeout: Most restaurants are back to dine-in service, and by the summer and fall of 2021 I think most restaurants which are going to return to normal service have already done so. I have talked to some restaurant owners in El Paso that have said they are worried that they will have enough business to stay open and make up for the losses they experienced over the many months they had of being closed or doing takeout only. This is simply to say that the story is not over–many restaurant have reopened hoping for the best but we will see.
  • Temporary Closings: When restaurants began to return to normal operations some web sites such as Yelp and Google Maps began marking certain establishments as “temporarily closed.” In the spring and summer of 2021 a large number of these restaurants opened and returned to normal operation (I think mostly with reduced hours). Probably an almost equal number decided to close for good. A few are still temporarily closed. One I have been watching is Chope’s in La Mesa, New Mexico. They announced on the local television stations that they intended to reopen but could not find enough staff to resume operations. They had planned to open at the end of August but could not meet this deadline. Now they say they will open on October 8, but it will only be the bar (the restaurant will open at some future date which has yet to be determined). The bar is small and I do not think it will accommodate the number of people that will try to go back, but I am very glad that they will at least be able to open again. I have heard that the staffing problem is the main thing affecting most restaurants right now, and is the reason they have cut back on their hours.
  • New Restaurants: One good sign is the fact that a number of new restaurants are opening up. These tend to be small restaurants, and a number of them serve ethnic food. In some cases it is ethnic food that I have been really wanting to try, or to experience different versions of them than I have had in the past. In many cases I read reviews that say the food is very good but they have so many people coming there that service is very slow or it may be hard even to get in. Although I am not a big fan of some of the new restaurant trends, I am all in favor of having a larger variety of choices than in the past, and I think this is what is happening with the places that are now opening.

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