Inflation is causing people to spend more on groceries, and there are fears of a looming recession — but the post-pandemic trend of people venturing out to dine and have fun seems to be continuing. Despite high food prices, it seems that Americans are willing to splurge on fun and fine dining. 

In the past year, consumer interest in restaurants remained consistent from a year ago, according to a new Yelp report that looked at certain user behaviors — viewing business pages, or posting photos or reviews. 

Americans have wanted to get out more after the past three years disrupted by the pandemic, experts and economists have said. The spending on dining out was strong in May, and Americans didn’t shy away from high prices. Sales for food services and drinking places were up 8.0% in May compared to a year ago, according to the latest retail sales data from the US Census Bureau. Food in general was 6.7% more expensive in May compared to a year ago and dining out was 8.3% more expensive, according to separate government data. 

Compared to March 2022, diners in March 2023 were looking at pricier restaurants, Yelp found, reporting that interest in fine dining in the past year not only surpassed the level of the year before, but also the pre-pandemic level by nearly 20%. Restaurants with four dollar signs, the most expensive tier that usually refers to fine dining restaurants, saw close to 20% more Yelp interactions in the past year, followed by those with three dollar signs, which saw a roughly 10% rise. 

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In comparison, the most affordable options — those labeled with one dollar sign — saw a 10% drop in interest from Yelp users.

The report also found that pop-up restaurants — those that share temporary space with bars and sometimes other restaurants — were the fastest-growing businesses, seeing a 105% spike in openings. Ramen restaurants followed with 45% more business openings in the past year than the year prior. 

“The restaurant industry shows strong signs of growth with business openings up nationally, especially for pop-up concepts, which entice consumers with their fleeting nature and experimental menus,” the report said. 

Across the U.S., consumers found themselves increasingly interested in arts and entertainment and nightlife, Yelp said. That was compared to a declining interest in shopping, beauty and spas in most states. 

Americans’ changing interests weren’t uniform across the country, the report found. West Virginia saw the largest increase in Arts and Entertainment activities, and people there became more interested in museums. Yelp interactions in the state rose 20% compared to a year ago. In Delaware, it was music venues (up 41%); and in Iowa, wine-tasting rooms (up 160%). Illinois residents and visitors were more interested in immersive-gaming experiences, as virtual reality centers saw a 76% rise in interest compared to a year ago. 

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One of the hottest activities, though, was paint-and-sip — where patrons are guided through a step-by-step painting lesson while drinking alcohol. Interest in paint-and-sip businesses was up 17% compared to a year ago, rising the most among arts and entertainment business categories. Americans were also showing more interest in speakeasies and comedy clubs, both up more than 15% compared to a year ago. 

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