Restaurants open

Sandy Burkholder, left, Ron Burkholder and Bud Bailly have lunch Friday May 8, 2020 at the Cook-E-Jar. It had been two months since they had dined at the restaurant.

PHOENIX -- Customers aren't exactly filling the places up.

But new figures from OpenTable suggest that Arizonans are once again warming to the idea of dining out -- and doing so with more exuberance than much of the rest of the country.

The most recent data from the organization that help people book reservations finds that dine-in seating at the restaurants surveyed is down about 60 percent from the same time a year ago.

That's not great. But it comes after weeks of no in-house dining following the March 20 order from Doug Ducey allowing restaurants to provide only curbside and take-out service. It took until May 11 for the governor to partly lift the order, allowing dine-in services with new service protocols and limits on numbers of diners.

Andd that 60 percent reduction is better than most of the rest of the country, where dine-in service, on average, is still about 87 percent below last year. Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said it appears that only South Carolina and Alabama, among states that shuttered restaurants, are doing better.

What's keeping the numbers from being better?

Chucri said some of it is a matter of physics and geography.

He noted the requirement for physical distancing between dining parties. So a restaurant has to get rid of perhaps half their tables to make that a reality.

At the same time, Chucri said, some restaurants are waiting until the next phase to reopen to diners, when the seating requirements are eased. Here, too, he said, distancing can matter.

For example, he cited one Phoenix restaurant which under normal circumstances would have 30 tables. But the size and configuration, Chucri said, might currently allow for perhaps just eight.

"So the models aren't there to make the money in order to bring everyone back in,'' he said.

That's not all.

"Others are wanting to make sure all the wrinkles are ironed out in the supply chain issue that we've been experiencing,'' Chucri said.

And even when restrictions are fully lifted -- whenever that occurs -- there's the question of whether people are going to feel comfortable enough to go out and sit down at a fancy restaurant or even a fast-food table.

"I think some of it's going to be word of mouth,'' Chucri said, as those who have gone out spread the word about the experiences they have had.

And then there's the question of what people read -- or don't read -- in the paper. Chucri said a story about someone contracting COVID-19 from going out to eat would get a lot of attention.

"But, so far, so good,'' he said.

All this has financial implications.

Chucri figures that the ban on in-house dining has cost restaurants statewide a collective $27 million a day in lost revenues. What that left them, he said, is what some were able to make with take-out and curbside services, a figure he said amounts to just 10 percent of what they were making before.

And Chucri said he presumes that, at least for some time to come, there will be Arizonans who remain more comfortable with getting their meals from their favorite restaurants and taking them home.

Year-over-year reduction in in-house dining

Date / Arizona / US

March 2 / 7% / 7%

March 9 / 7% / 14%

March 16 / 54% / 56%

March 23 / 100% / 99.9%

March 30 / 100% / 100%

April 6 / 100% / 100%

April 13 / 100% / 100%

April 20 / 100% / 100%

April 27 / 100% / 99.9%

May 4 / 100% / 98.0%

May 11 / 76.7% / 95.7%

May 18 / 74.3% / 93.7%

May 25 / 60.8% / 86.8%

-- Source: OpenTable survey of 20,000 restaurants nationally comparing current date in-house dining with same date a year earlier