Fast food and other limited service restaurants in Alaska see strong recovery post-pandemic

We continue to look at how food and drink establishments fared during and after the pandemic.
Published: Jan. 15, 2023 at 1:35 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The COVID-19 pandemic caused turmoil for nearly sectors in Alaska, but limited service restaurants such as fast food chains were quick to adapt decreasing the pandemics impact on the industry.

In Alaska, the winters are cold and most places require vehicular transportation for efficient and safe travel. These conditions combined with the lockdowns faced during the COVID-19 pandemic were a recipe for disaster among restaurants and bars. But, as anyone following the stock market can see, the fast food chains and other limited service restaurants have faced challenges such as recessions quite well and they have continued to expand and grow operations for decades. That growth was hardly slowed down by the pandemic which caused a fall in stock prices in spring of 2020.

The strength of limited service restaurants both in Alaska and nationwide has been attributed to many factors. Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development specifically attributed the strength of the industry to its “dynamic” and “adaptive” nature. Being able to adapt to the pandemic lockdowns more quickly thanks to drive throughs and delivery services, the fast food chains and other limited service restaurants were able to continue their growth even during the pandemic. “Some people think it will permanently absorb a bigger slice of that market than it was pre-pandemic,” said Fried.

The limitations caused by the lockdown played a huge role boosting economic gains for these establishments which were also aided by food delivery services such as Uber Eats and Door Dash.

While the sector saw continued growth after delivery based services were increased, limited service restaurants would later see trouble with recruitment. These difficulties also stem from a couple of challenges. After the first lockdown. “we had that back and forth for a while and also maybe in some cases fear of going back to that environment,” Fried said.

While the adaptations made by limited service restaurants helped them recover faster, the staffing shortages led to other developments, such as automated kiosks. This change was made in response to the lack of labor but they have also cut out potential jobs. “We’re just beginning to see a lot more of that it’s happening in other sectors too such as retail and other sectors as a result of a shortage of labor,” Fried said.

Despite the labor shortages, fast food chains and other limited service establishments continue to see an upwards trend post-pandemic, far outpacing the recovery of full service restaurants.