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Restaurant business rebounding slowly in Las Vegas

If you open, will they come? As Las Vegas bars and restaurants have struggled to decide whether it’s worth reopening at reduced capacity, customer demand has been a big unknown. New figures suggest that demand is growing but still has a long way to go before it returns to anything close to normal.

In Clark County, the number of credit card transactions for food and beverage purchases are up more than 1,000 percent since restaurants began seating customers on Mother’s Day weekend, according to one local credit card processing company. But those numbers are still down more than 83 percent from even the slowest pre-shutdown week of 2020.

The calculations are based on data provided by Shift4 Payments, a Las Vegas-based company that processes credit card transactions for more than 200,000 merchants nationwide, including 21,000 hotels and 125,000 restaurants.

For the first 10 weeks of 2020, its thousands of Clark County “revenue centers” on and off the Strip processed between 3.2 million and 3.9 million food and beverage sales per week. That number dropped to fewer than 33,000 for the week of March 22-28 (the first full week after the shutdown of nonessential businesses), and remained below 50,000 per week through Mother’s Day weekend, when dining rooms were allowed to reopen at reduced capacity. The figures have climbed steadily ever since, however, rising to over a half a million transactions for the week of June 7 (the last full week for which figures are available).

The National Restaurant Association’s Joe Essa, who is also president and CEO of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, doesn’t see these figures as particularly good news.

“Are we seeing things come back at the rate we expected? Well, no, because all of us were very optimistic, thinking that by now we would be able to serve close to maximum capacity, and that opportunity has not been afforded to us.”

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Essa cites limited restaurant capacity, business interruptions brought on by recent protests and “media frenzy about the virus” as the three big causes of a slower return to normal than he, and many in the industry, expected. Nonetheless, he sees reason for optimism.

“Thank goodness, by and large, the people that we’re seeing in our restaurants are excited to be out. They’re being sensitive and respectful of others where they’re being asked to wear a mask. But when they’re inside, they’re happy and they’re thankful. And they’re telling us, as restaurateurs, ‘We’re so glad you’re open. We missed you.’

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