After a hard hit from the coronavirus pandemic, the "light at the end of the tunnel" is on its way for the beleaguered restaurant industry.
In a recent survey conducted jointly by OpenTable — which is owned by Booking Holdings Inc. (BKNG) — and the nonprofit James Beard Foundation, 54% of diners say they plan to dine out at a restaurant with table service in 2021, at least once a week.
Meanwhile, the percentage of diners that feel eating indoors is a "low to somewhat low risk" for COVID-19 is up a whopping 79% from July 2020, even as a surge in new infections is raising fears of a fourth wave.
"The end is near — it's really encouraging to see," Debby Soo, OpenTable CEO told Yahoo Finance LIVE in an interview last week. "we've gone through a long and hard winter. It's starting to warm up."
The return of indoor dining in many places across the country is coinciding with the start to spring — and with that, warmer weather. That means the dining rebound will appear different, depending "on what city, what state, even what county you're looking at," according to Soo.
"In the U.S. at the state level, we're seeing places like Nevada, and Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas really start rebounding...major cities like San Francisco, New York, LA are still down, but you're seeing those numbers, week- over-week, increase."
Based on OpenTable's records as of March 27th compared to a year prior, seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in reservations in Nevada are up by double-digits in states like Oklahoma and Texas. However, major coastal cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City are down significantly — by more than half in each city.
Soo, however, is optimistic that the COVID-19 vaccine distribution will boost those figures significantly. As new COVID-19 infections in the Empire State jump, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced that everyone over the age of 30 would be eligible for a vaccine beginning Tuesday.
"We anticipate that, as vaccinations continue to roll out and people get vaccinated, that those numbers will continue to increase," Soo added.
Despite the rebound, there are some aspects of the dining experience that might be here to say.
"Contactless pay, online waitlists, ordering through a QR code and looking at menu items, I think those are all trends that we're going to see continue to persist, even after this pandemic is over," Soo added.
According to OpenTable and James Beard Foundation's survey, 71% of diners want restaurants to keep offering contactless pay, ordering, or menus in 2021.
In addition, take-out and delivery appears to be a fan-favorite that's only gotten more popular. According to the survey, takeout orders have more than quadrupled over the past three months, while 91% of diners said they'd like to see takeout and delivery offerings stay in 2021 — especially when it comes to wine and beer-to go, cocktails and bar kits to-go, and meal kits.
As far as OpenTable's business goes, it seems like the platform is benefitting from this uptick in demand for contactless technology.
"Every opportunity to decrease that contact between restaurant and diners, we're going after," Soo said. "we've had great success so far. Diners seem really open to it...restaurants are loving it too, because it helps them manage their restaurants more effectively."
Shares of Booking Holdings Inc. are up more than 80% from a year ago.
Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.