Despite curious Twitter and Instagram posts depicting crowded bars and restaurants over the weekend, it's pretty well known that such places are perfect environments for the spread of Coronavirus.

If the message of washing your hands and practicing social distancing hasn't sunk in yet, perhaps governments ordering public gathering places like restaurants will help, as New York City has done.

It's a sensible move, too: historically, restaurants have been one of the most-trafficked places when measured by social media activity, second only to movie theaters, and followed in a close third by gyms.

Based on "Were Here" count — the cumulative count of the number of times a business is tagged as the location a selfie, status update, or comment on Facebook took place — Starbucks leads dining establishments, followed by McDonald's, Olive Garden, Applebees, and Chilis. All of these popular businesses' Were Here counts have steadily grown since at least 2017, with more growth in warmer months.

Typically we would see double-digit gains at this time of the year for these popular gathering places. But, as coronavirus fears keep people home — and, soon, as governments mandate shutdowns — we're beginning to see the first signs of slowing foot traffic across the board when compared to growth rates for this month last year.

At McDonald's ($MCD), Were Here growth declined to just over 8% month over month, down from 8.5% in January. McDonald's is likely to weather the storm better than some other players here, as it has always been take-out and even drive-thru friendly.

But at Applebees ($DIN), which gets by on a sit-down, in-house approach to casual dining, Were Here growth saw a decline over the past week in growth. As restaurants close their doors, Applebee's will rely on take-out and delivery revenue at those locations that can support it. It doesn't help that, over the weekend, a North Platte Applebee's closed its doors after possible exposure to coronavirus.

Olive Garden's year-over-year Were Here growth has been slowing down since the new year, but spring saw some positive movement for the family-style Italian chain. Last week, though growth dipped as customers began thinking twice about heading in to share a bowl of pasta. Good news for Olive Garden employees, however, is that the company's parent, Darden Restaurants ($DRI), is now offering paid sick leave to all employees during the outbreak.

Starbucks ($SBUX) is one of the most selfied food and beverage spots in the world, with a total Were Here count of nearly 39 million. And going into March, the coffee chain was seeing positive growth in terms of year-over-year comparisons. Once the coronavirus outbreak got very real for Americans, however, gains began to slow in recent days. The chain has switched an all "to-go" model in the US and Canada. While this will surely help, we have a feeling a lot of people are going to become very skilled at brewing their own coffee the longer they're staying home.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

Further Reading: 

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