Restaurant industry update shows positive trends and changes

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(The Center Square) – A new report looks at how the restaurant industry may be forever changed after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Restaurant Association released its mid-year State of the Restaurant Industry update, which illustrates the continued impact of the pandemic on the industry. The report looks at trends influencing the industry’s recovery as of June/July 2021, including the economy, workforce and food and beverage sales.

July marked the seventh consecutive month of staffing growth, but finding workers continues to be a challenge for eateries. Eating and drinking places remain nearly 1 million jobs or 8% below pre-pandemic employment levels.

“Currently 3 out of 4 restaurant operators report that finding individuals to work with the organization is their top challenge,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the NRA.

Joe Wargo, co-owner of Joe’s Station House Pizza Pub in Normal, said many workers may have left the industry during the pandemic because of the uncertainty of the business.

“There are a variety of challenges we are facing and not just unemployment, it is consistency of work,” Wargo said. “They want to know if something goes wrong, they are going to be taken care of.”

Operators also continue to grapple with higher input costs with wholesale food prices increasing at their fastest rate in seven years. As a result, menu prices have increased nearly 4% through June 2021.

The pandemic catalyzed many changes in the restaurant industry including online ordering, electronic payment, and order pickup.

“Many, many more table service restaurants offer viable carry-out delivery options now, and so going forward, that will remain in place,” Riehle said.

Technology is expected to become a bigger integral part of the restaurant experience. The report showed 52% of adults would like to see restaurants incorporate more technology to make ordering and payment easier.

“I think that we have to re-imagine the way that we are going to do business to attract the type of people that have left the industry because of the inconsistencies,” Wargo said.

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