The 2020 coronavirus shutdown forced restaurants in Mississippi to close their dining rooms as cases and deaths spiked and health officials and lawmakers grappled with how to slow the spread of the virus.
Restaurants had to change their business models for weeks, shifting to curbside pickup, to-go orders only and, in some cases, to-go cocktails if the business was located inside a Coast entertainment district.
But when it was deemed safe to open dining rooms later in the year, first at limited capacity and with social distancing and other PPE requirements enforced, diners came out again.
And as things slowly crept back to a new normal for the restaurant industry on the Mississippi Coast, diners kept coming.
Data from SafeGraph shows that most Coast cities saw a huge decrease in restaurant foot traffic in March and April 2020 during the initial height of COVID in Mississippi, but traffic soon reached 2019 levels.
By 2021, traffic in almost every city eclipsed 2019 traffic, according to the data. A visit is recorded as any person who enters a restaurant and stays for more than 4 minutes, SafeGraph says.
Bay St. Louis saw the highest increase in visits since the pandemic and compared to 2019, the data shows. Pascagoula, Gautier and Long Beach are close behind.
Many new restaurants are opening across the Mississippi Coast, including new local spots and chains. An Olive Garden is planned in Gulfport, Biloxi will see a new Starbucks, and tons of new local restaurants are popping up from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula.
A new Murky Waters barbecue restaurant just opened in Old Town Bay St. Louis, and Sully’s will soon open its doors to guests in downtown Gulfport.