Full service restaurants see slow post pandemic recovery

A look at the post pandemic recovery of restaurants and bars.
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 9:02 AM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Across the nation restaurants of all sizes suffered when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Alaska was certainly no exception and full service restaurants or dine-in restaurants suffered significantly.

Generating much of their revenue during the tourism season, the onset of the pandemic meant that many of the customers these vendors rely on would not be making purchases. “One of the biggest losses was full service at almost 10%,” said Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor.

Full service restaurants in Fairbanks include businesses such as Brewsters, The Turtle Club, and Geraldo’s. These establishments have had a slower and more difficult recovery in part due to the scale of their operations and style of dining.

“When you think about it, it’s an avenue where people socialize and have the ability to socialize,” Fried said. The lockdowns that were set in place to slow the spread of the virus practically put an end to this part of dining. Those restrictions did more than change these operations for full service restaurants. “The pandemic has made a lot of things a lot easier where we don’t have to socialize as much,” Fried said.

The isolation brought on by the pandemic also required full service dine-in restaurants to change their operations in order to survive. For many, this meant expanding their take out and delivery services, “a few of them... have become full time take out and have closed their in-service,” said Fried. Yet, these restaurants still saw more losses than other food and drink establishments. The industry lost over 2000 jobs as a result, along with more restaurants closing their business.

For those that were able to adapt and stay in business, they have been able to obtain their lost numbers in part. That process was also bolstered as tourism returned. “So as [tourism] has been recovering, it’s contributed to the recovery of that industry in our state,” Fried said.

As the recovery continues, Alaska Department of Labor reports employment numbers in the restaurant industry rose by 1,100 jobs in 2021 in the Fairbanks area. It is hopeful these numbers will continue to rise with the 2023 tourism season.