Mayor Frey says restaurants are booming under his mandates. Data say otherwise

On Jan. 15, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced a mandate requiring proof of vaccinations or negative tests for entry into food or drink establishments in the city beginning Jan. 19.

A group of restaurant and bar owners are suing the city of Minneapolis and Mayor Frey to stop the city from enforcing these new requirements. The Star Tribune reports:

The plaintiffs say those requirements pose significant challenges and contradict guidance and recommendations from the state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and medical experts across the country, “all of which adamantly promote and encourage at-home testing.” The purpose of the mandate is an attempt to prod the general public to get vaccinated, the plaintiffs say.

Francis Rondoni, one of the Minneapolis attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said Friday that the mayor did not follow the legislative process and doesn’t have the power to issue the order.

Rondoni said the mandate puts an unfair burden on business owners who have already been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the establishments, whose job is not to enforce a public health policy, are losing customers to suburban bars and restaurants and are being forced to hire additional help amid staff shortages to try and meet the mandate. [Emphasis added]

On Saturday morning, Mayor Frey took to Twitter to dismiss such claims:

Mayor Frey did not share any of this flood of photos of hopping nightspots and it is hard to find them in the data.

OpenTable maintains a database of how many people dined in restaurants in 2021 and 2020 as compared to before the pandemic, in 2019. This shows that, on Jan. 21, when people were inundating Mayor Frey’s phone with pictures of packed restaurants in Minneapolis, there were, in fact, 59.5 percent fewer people dining in the city’s restaurants than there were compared to the pre-pandemic baseline.

Well, there is a pandemic on so shouldn’t we expect to see numbers like this? That might explain why numbers are down but not why they are down so much more here than elsewhere. Figure 1 shows OpenTable’s data for diners in 45 American cities on Jan. 21: only two — Cambridge and Raleigh — were further below their 2019 baseline than Minneapolis.

Figure 1: Seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in reservations, January 21, 2022, change from 2019

Source: OpenTable

OpenTable’s data show that the situation has gotten worse in the last couple of weeks. Figure 2 shows the difference from the 2019 baseline for diners for Minneapolis and the average of the other 44 cities daily since Jan. 1. Numbers are down from 2019 generally, but the numbers for Minneapolis are consistently down by more than the 44 city average and that gap has widened dramatically since Jan. 17, two days after Mayor Frey announced his new measures.

Figure 2: Seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in reservations, change from 2019

Source: OpenTable

Those restaurant and bar owners seem to have a point.