Understanding Small Business Changes During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Frustrated owner sitting at table in closed cafe, small business lockdown due to coronavirus.

Small business owners should be aware of the different variables that make up these statistics.

The United States Census Bureau conducts detailed research on the effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic when it comes to small businesses all over the nation. This research effort is known as The Small Business Pulse Survey (SBPS). This research aims to gain valuable data to illustrate the various challenges being faced by small businesses. Understanding how the pandemic has shifted certain aspects of running a small business will help set you up in the best way to recover and sustain from any setbacks you might encounter. Business owners and employees alike would benefit from the information readily available from the Census Bureau.

All types of businesses faced hardships at the height of the pandemic. Nail salons, movie theaters, markets, medical offices, daycare centers, gyms, and more saw their doors close for at least a temporary period. Some small businesses had to close permanently after experiencing losses they were unable to recover from. Of all the industries affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic, accommodation and food services experienced the greatest impact, according to The Small Business Pulse Survey data. From the beginning stages of Covid-19 in 2020 all the way up to last month in 2022, accommodation and food services business risks remained higher than other industries, even if the numbers did see an improvement over time.

What does “Accommodation and Food Services” include?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accommodation and Food Services includes, “establishments providing customers with lodging and/or preparing meals, snacks, and beverages for immediate consumption. The sector includes both accommodation and food services establishments because the two activities are often combined at the same establishment.” Within this broad category, there are two subsections, “accommodation” and “food services and drinking places.”


Any business that provides short-term stays or lodging services is generally classified under the accommodation industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that accommodations are broken up into three clear categories:

  • Traveler Accommodation
  • Recreational Vehicle (RV) Parks and Recreation
  • Rooming and Boarding Houses

In other words, hotels, campsites, and college campus housing are all fair game when it comes to Coronavirus Pandemic vulnerability. This category runs much deeper than what you see at face value. This one category can easily affect an entire family. Parents of a college student having housing problems might also be employees or owners of a business that relies on travelers. Even companies that are contracted to help maintain the buildings of these businesses will see a drastic downturn in their turnover whenever this industry takes a hit.

Food services and drinking places

While it may seem obvious if a place serves food or drink, it’s helpful to understand exactly what businesses qualify under these national classification systems. When it comes to food and drink services, the following are considered:

  • Full-service restaurants with waitstaff
  • Limited-service restaurants that may have seating available
  • Snacks and beverages sold from a counter only
  • Places that serve alcoholic beverages (whether they are required to sell food might depend on your state or local restrictions)
  • Mobile food services—like food trucks and carts
  • Food service contractors—like catering companies.

What we witnessed in 2020 could never have been predicted. The enormous economic impact is still shocking to this day, with many consumers and business owners still feeling the effects. A late-night dive bar owner might struggle just as much as the city breakfast cart owner. The conditions of the pandemic created long-term effects both in the workplace and social settings, affecting businesses that depend on early morning commuter traffic or after-work happy hour goers.

Comparing Data from 2020 through 2022

The following charts are from The United States Census Bureau and show data from 2020, 2021, and 2022 respectively. The purpose of these graphs is to illustrate how small businesses have been affected throughout the course of the pandemic. Sector 72 (shown in the text bubble) refers to the “accommodation and food services” industry. You can see clearly how in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, restaurants, and other hospitality-oriented business concerns were at an all-time high. In 2021, you can see that there is some obvious recovery underway, but by no means has this industry bounced back. You’ll also notice how in each year, this industry still measured highest out of the entire category.

While these graphs show a hopeful progression as the pandemic takes on new forms, it’s important to stay alert and be prepared for any changes. You can even visit the site yourself and set different parameters on their interactive graphs for more detailed information. If you want to know more about a specific state, you can look at data all the way down to a specific week in time.

What does this all mean?

While it might be reassuring to see that there has been a drastic improvement in statistics since 2020, the data makes it clear that the accommodation and food services industry is one of the first to be affected by events like the Covid-19 Pandemic. If you operate a business or work in an industry that is vulnerable to these kinds of events, you might want to consider a backup plan.


The data collected by the United States Census Bureau is important to understand as a business owner, employee, and even a consumer. If you own a small business, you’ll certainly want to educate yourself on the different variables that make up these statistics. If you understand the individual components that measure your overall business performance, it makes it much easier to focus on the areas that could use some improvements.

The most important thing in life is to be prepared, especially when there are resources available to you. Now that you have some information on how small business is affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic, you are more likely to make better decisions in your own work. Even as a consumer, it helps to understand what some businesses have to go through just to keep serving the customers that are so important to them.

Related content:

The Devastating Impacts of The Government Shutdown on Small Businesses Are Sequential

Opportunities for Businesses in the Time of Covid-19

The Ripple Effect of the Government Shutdown on Small Business


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