Some People Shy Away From Restaurants as Delta Variant Spreads

Some consumers are rethinking their return to dining out, according to executives and industry data, a shift that threatens the U.S. restaurant sector’s rebound.

Restaurants that survived waves of closures last year had headed into the summer with rising optimism as most of the country ended dine-in occupancy restrictions. Bigger delivery and online ordering business boosted sit-down chains in recent months, including Ruth’s Hospitality Group Inc. and Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands Inc.

However, individual operators and recent industry data now point to a more mixed picture, particularly in U.S. markets hit hard by Covid-19 outbreaks and renewed coronavirus-related advisories. Recent consumer surveys show the Delta variant prompted Americans who say they are the most restricted in their activities to start pulling back their activities again late last month.

Chris Downs, a 32-year-old mechanical engineer from St. Louis County, Mo., had returned to dining out at restaurants in May after getting vaccinated, allowing him to celebrate his dad’s birthday and see friends again. Now, with Delta, he’s stopped dining out for fear of getting the virus.

“I am back to mostly cooking all meals at home,” Mr. Downs said.

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