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AZ restaurants face increased traffic but also a labor shortage

A sign on a Phoenix restaurant advertises open positions
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
A sign at a Phoenix restaurant advertises open positions in April 2021.

Restaurants in Arizona continue adapting to changes brought on by the pandemic in an effort to increase revenue after a decimating 2020.

Falling temperatures, leading to more outdoor dining options, and declining cases of COVID-19 after a third wave this summer have industry representatives hopeful business will increase going into the fourth quarter.

Dan Bogert, COO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said innovation will continue to be important, “similar to how a lot of places were able to make it through 2020 by refocusing on to-go orders or coming up with new types of specials and refocusing — instead of single entrees, maybe doing family meal packaging.”  

Bogert said about the same amount of restaurant locations are open as prior to the pandemic in February 2020, but adequate staffing remains problematic.

“The restaurant industry had a labor issue even pre-dating the pandemic and of course the pandemic just amplified that. We are still seeing that the market out there is very tight,” he said.

While restaurants are coming up with innovative ways to recruit and retain new hires, Bogert said it will take several months to really get a full picture of how 2021 shapes out in terms of employee turnover.

The association estimates the industry lost $2.7 billion in revenue in 2020 and furloughed 151,000 employees or 66% of its workforce.

Bogert admits it will take several months to really understand how 2021 has played out in terms of employee turnover, but restaurants are offering creative incentives to win back workers and recruit new ones.

Tom Maxedon was the host of KJZZ’s Weekend Edition from 2017 to 2024.