The CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association says updated information suggests fewer restaurants and bars in Iowa have closed during the pandemic than was expected. Jessica Dunker says initial estimates indicated about a thousand restaurants and bars in Iowa that were operating in March of 2020 would close.
“We’re projecting now that it’s probably going to be closer to 700, which is more in the 12% range,” Dunker says, “and we’ll take that.” Dunker says restaurants and bars fared better here than in other states for a combination of reasons, including state grants along with federal Paycheck Protection Program grants. Iowa restaurants and bars were also allowed to reopen for in-person service sooner than in other states.
“There’s pent up demand. Our biggest problem is we can’t find people to work,” Dunker says. “But the customers are coming out and summer is summer, so we’re optimistic.” Dunker says part of the workforce problem is that 20 years ago, just over a third of high-school students had a part-time job, whereas today it’s about 20 percent.
“We have to get creative as an industry to attract people into those first jobs,” Dunker says. “One-in-three people had their first job with us. We’d like one-in-three Iowans who are 16 today to have a job with
us.” Dunker says another factor is that many of the employees who were laid off a year ago when Iowa restaurants and bars were shutdown because of the pandemic are not returning.
“We lost people — great customer service people — to phone jobs, to Amazon, to everyone because everyone was hiring and you love people with great people skills and that’s us,” Dunker says, “so we were easy pickings.” Dunker made her comments during a recent appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.