Israeli Restaurants Stay Open During the Pandemic. But Diners Fail to Flock

While restaurants and cafes saw a rise in profit since lockdown ended, it is still far below what they used to make in the pandemic's early days

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Restaurant goers and a masked waitress at a restaurant in Jaffa, July 9, 2020.
Restaurant-goers and a masked waitress at a restaurant in Jaffa, July 9, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Israeli restaurateurs last month defeated a government plan to shut them to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but the victory proved pyrrhic: Figures show Israelis are eating out far less than before the pandemic.

The Bank of Israel reported that spending at restaurants and cafes was just 48 million shekels ($14 million) a day at the end of July. While that was a big improvement over the 16 million shekel rate during the lockdown, it was 25% down on the level before the lockdown.

Meanwhile, Ontopo, a company that manages seating and takeout orders for hundreds of restaurants, said the number of patrons plunged 45% in June from the same time in 2019. In July, when some restrictions were reimposed, the number was down 66% year on year. The biggest restaurants were hurt the most because of rules limiting the number of diners, it said.

The absence of any foreign tourism to Israel has also hurt restaurants. In 2019, the average tourist spent $207 on food during their time in Israel, or a total of $931 million. Not all of that was spent in restaurants but a significant portion was, noted Hezi Nehemya, CEO of Fact Stories, the research firm that assembled the data.

More Israelis working from home has also taken a toll on restaurant spending. “In Tel Aviv, 30% of all workers haven’t returned to their workplaces,” he said. “Restaurants serving high-tech workers in Herzliya, Ramat Hahayal and other places are nearly empty.”

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