The last 13.5 months have separated a lot of us from our friends. We’ve socially distanced and learned to communicate through video chat.
But as more Americans get Covid-19 vaccines and cases decline, the data shows that Americans are more comfortable with starting to venture out a lot more than they have previously.
You can see this very well through a sample of data made available from OpenTable, a restaurant reservation website. Comparing the number of diners to an equivalent point in 2019 (when there was no pandemic), more and more people are clearly going out.
Nationally, there was an average 25% daily decline in seated diners in April 2021 compared to April 2019. That may seem like a large decline, but it’s significantly better than the 56% average monthly decline since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The 25% decline also represents the smallest decline in seated diners since the pandemic began. The best previous month was March 2021, when the decline was 33%. We’re seeing a clear trajectory of more Americans returning to their baseline behaviors when it comes to eating out.
Not surprisingly, there does seem to be a bit of a red-blue divide on people going back out for dinner. Though there is not OpenTable data available in every state, the people in red states have been more willing to eat out compared to their baseline in 2019 than the people in blue states.
In the month of April 2021, states that voted for Joe Biden in 2020 saw an average decline of 28% in seated diners compared to April 2019. The states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 had an average decline of 15%.
Still, both of those represent the smallest monthly declines in their respective categories since the pandemic began.
These restaurant data is a real world example of something that’s becoming quite evident in the polling data.
For example, the latest Axios/Ipsos poll taken in mid-April showed that 48% of Americans said they had gone out to eat in the last week. This was the highest percentage since they started asking this question in late March 2020.
Like in the OpenTable data, Republicans (57%) were more likely than Democrats (38%) to have gone out, but both represented highs or near highs for their groups and were up considerably from a year ago.
Going out to eat is part of a larger movement of people socially distancing less across the board.
In the Axios/Ipsos poll, 61% of Americans said they had “social distanced – that is stayed at home and avoided others as much as possible” in the last week. This represented the lowest percentage recorded by Axios/Ipsos since they started asking the question in April 2020.
There was a large partisan divide with 78% of Democrats and a mere 45% who answered that they had socially distanced in the last week. Both, though, were either the lowest or tied for the lowest recorded for a given partisan group since April 2020.
These trends are part of a larger comfortability of Americans to get back to their normal routine. The latest CNN/SSRS poll found that 67% of Americans had either gotten back to their normal routine or are comfortable with doing so. That’s by far the highest since the pandemic began.
Democrats (47%) were far less likely than Republicans (88%) to tell pollsters they were ready to get back to their normal routine or already had. However, as with the other data, both groups are more comfortable now getting back to their normal routine than they used to be. Democrats in particular saw a large jump from 21% saying they were comfortable in October.
While members of pretty much all groups are more comfortable going out, people getting a Covid-19 vaccine is helping. According to a late March 2021 Gallup poll, people who are fully vaccinated are less likely to socially isolate than people planning to get fully vaccinated.
(People who are not vaccinated and are not planning to be are the least likely to socially isolate, though they are also the least likely to believe the pandemic is a major problem.)
This means that more and more people are likely to feel good about returning to some version of pre-pandemic life as long as people keep getting vaccinated and cases drop.