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Iowa’s restaurants, bars slowly recovering from pandemic (VIDEO)

MASON CITY — The head of the Iowa Restaurant Association says the industry is cautiously optimistic heading into the month of March. Iowa’s bars and restaurants were shut down last March 17th for on-site service, with a number of restrictions in place until the governor lifted those in early February.

Jessica Dunker, who is a native of Mason City, says despite the lifting of those restrictions, most establishments continue to have safety measures in place. “I think many of you will agree that most restaurants and bars if you have been into them are still practicing things that they feel make sense for their business and their customers. Here in the Des Moines area in particular we see a lot of the restaurants continue to have their staff wear masks. They haven’t put all the tables back, they’ve put some of them back. We are seeing a continued emphasis on patio service when the weather cooperates which it has been.”

Dunker says the industry finished the one year mark with revenue down about 33%, or about $1.45 billion, but she says restaurants and bars are seeing more customers return. “With January, our operators are reporting in Iowa that they are only down 28%, so we are seeing that increase. You know St. Patrick’s Day is coming, Cinco de Mayo is coming, we were given back Valentine’s Day, we were given back the Super Bowl, and so we really live for those events, and we are feeling better than we were.”

Several restaurants and bars expanded their outdoor seating areas as a way to spread out the number of people in their establishments. Dunker says many of those businesses will likely continue to offer those options in 2021. “We think that it’s going to be a long time before the restaurant industry looks the same, and it may never actually before the restaurant industry looks the same. As people expanded those outdoor dining spaces and made those investments, as communities saw ways that they could create if we make that possible, we think that will stay in place potentially from now on because people really enjoy the experience when they go to a restaurant or a bar, and when you can put that beautiful outdoors as part of that experience, people like that and it brings them back.”

Dunker says the best way you can help the industry is by patronizing your favorite establishments as often as possible. “We really need some recovery time here, and recovery means cash, and cash comes in the form of paying customers who are enjoying our food and drink in whatever service model they are comfortable with. Keep doing carryout. If there’s drive-thru, keep doing drive-thru, and come and sit in the chairs that are available. We really are asking everyone for the next six months, if you are a typical restaurant customer two times a week, make yourself a typical restaurant customer three times a week. Just do that one more time out and that will help us get to the other side.”

Dunker says the Iowa Restaurant Association says they are promoting people order carryout instead of using a third-party delivery service like Doordash or Uber Eats, as that’s not a profitable model for the vast majority of Iowa restaurants.

Dunker made her comments on the weekly Cerro Gordo County/City of Mason City COVID-19 press conference that you heard on AM-1300 KGLO Wednesday afternoon. If you missed the press conference, you can watch it below.


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