San Diego Restaurants See Biggest Surge of Customers Nationwide: Study

NBC 7 Responds looked at how many restaurants are seeing a surge of customers starting to return as restrictions are lifted

NBC Universal, Inc.

The coronavirus pandemic hit restaurants, bars and breweries hard. Some started offering takeout only, while others closed their doors entirely. But a new page turned at the start of the new year.

Since January, many diners have started to return to eat & drink at their favorite establishments.

"San Diego's at about 136% increase [in foot traffic] since January 1st, which is phenomenal," said Megan Wintersteen, VP of Marketing at Zenreach, a market research group that provides data on shopping trends.

Zenreach works with stores and restaurants to help them understand how many people are entering their stores and who their customers are. Wintersteen says across the nation there's been an increase of 41% in people visiting stores.

"Seeing that momentum pick up through this year we think it is indicative and reflective of consumer optimism," said Wintersteen.

The data from Zenreach also showed that people are eating at local and smaller restaurants 11% more then they are at larger chains.

Restaurants around San Diego told NBC 7 they are seeing more customers coming in as restrictions change. Oleg Prokofiev of Testo Pepesto says it was the return of other stores that brought customers back.

"A lot of businesses started to reopen so more people were coming to the downtown area," said Prokofiev. "I feel like it's maybe another two, three months and it's either going to be like it was before, or almost the same, or even better."

Bars and breweries say they haven't seen the same immediate increase, but expect to see a big increase for the summer.

"It's steadily progressing and we're getting a little busier every time," said Geoffrey Harris of Society PB. "It's exciting to get back to where we don't have to do all the mandates, where we can go back to some sense of normalcy."

Wintersteen also thinks summer will be another big surge in customers for bars and restaurants.

"March was a pretty big spike. Things leveled off in April, and we're anticipating seeing another jump here," said Wintersteen. "I think in destination and tourism cities we will probably see that momentum continue to pick up."

While more people are out and eating at restaurants in person, many are still being cautious.

"We're going out a little bit more but still being careful," said Nina, a customer at one of San Diego's restaurants. "I think everyone being vaccinated feels a little more comfortable."

"We haven't gone to clubs or bars or anything like that," said Wadeaa, another diner. "We're staying away from the super crowded areas."

Wintersteen says numbers like these help restaurants know if they need to hire more employees, change their hours, or adjust their marketing.

"This is a really great time for restaurants and retail to acquire new customers," said Wintersteen. "Restaurants and retail will be the first wave and we're looking at Q3 and Q4 for travel and hospitality."

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