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The early effects of coronavirus-related social distancing restrictions on brands

This paper presents some of the first evidence on the effect of the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the US on retail footfall traffic. The paper uses granular visit data from cell-phone tracking to estimate the shift in visits to different types of restaurants as coronavirus spread in the USA across the first three weeks of March 2020. The descriptive empirical work provides three useful insights. First, the precise level of coronavirus spread in the state or the timing of any in-person dining ban in the state has had far smaller effects than the pronounced nationwide overall collapse in demand. Second, there is little evidence of substitution towards restaurants focused on delivery as a result of the bans. Though dine-in restaurants suffered the largest drop in customers as a result of state-imposed restaurant bans, quick-service restaurants experienced a steep decline. Last, the biggest individual effects of these state-specific bans appear to have been top-ranked brands focusing on full-service dining. Both top and non top-ranked brands suffered drops for restaurants not focused on dining in, with top brands suffering a slightly smaller decline.

Lead investigator:

Catherine E. Tucker


Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Management Science

Primary topic:

Recession & recovery

Secondary topic:

Attitudes, media & governance

Region of data collection:

North America

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Status of data collection


Type of data being collected:

From private company

Unit of real-time data collection


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