Iowa restaurants still seeing record demand as COVID cases rise

By: - August 31, 2021 5:40 pm

Iowa restaurant owners say they are having to raise their prices for burgers and other meat dishes due to the cost of meat supplies. (Creative Commons photo via PxHere.com)

Six in 10 people have changed their restaurant habits due to the delta variant of COVID-19, the National Restaurant Association reported Tuesday, and nearly 20% of people have stopped going to restaurants altogether.

But not in Iowa.

Iowa Restaurant Association President Jessica Dunker said Tuesday that Iowa restaurants are still seeing massive demand, even as COVID-19 case numbers rise in the state.

“With the delta variant, we haven’t seen an Iowa impact right now,” Dunker said. “…If we had the people we needed to work, we would likely be setting pre-pandemic sales records because the pent-up demand was so great.”

Dunker said restaurants across Iowa were serving fewer tables and closing more frequently because they’re short-staffed. Restaurants are also facing supply-chain delays due to underemployment in the shipping industry.

“The biggest detriment to our growth and recovery is not COVID, it’s not delta variant, it’s certainly not the inability to get vaccines… It is (that) we cannot find people to work,” Dunker said.

Read more: Iowa employers still struggling to hire as U.S. adds nearly 1 million jobs

Amanda and Joe Ripperger, owners of the Sports Page Grill in Indianola, said it was a challenge to hire and maintain employees. They’re using more services to advertise jobs and have increased starting wages by about 25%.

“At one point two months ago, I was 0 for 12 interviews that I set up… of people not showing up just for the interview,” Joe Ripperger said.

Amanda Ripperger said business was booming despite the delta variant, though she noted that people were dining in smaller groups and to-go orders remained popular.

“Honestly, we’ve never been busier,” she said. “If we could just get some workforce, there’s no complaints on our side.”

How are Iowa restaurants dealing with the delta variant?

Iowa does not mandate any COVID-19 precautions for restaurants and bars. Dunker said that businesses have created their own set of precautions, with some maintaining or reintroducing mask requirements for staff. She said Iowa customers can choose restaurants that they feel safest in.

“That’s the advantage of having close to 6,000 locations across the state,” she said. “You really can find whatever comfort level you want.”

But mandating employee vaccinations is not common in the industry, as competition is fierce for workers.

“They’ll go somewhere that doesn’t mandate it. And finding a job the same day, it’s literally that easy right now,” she said.

Dunker credited Iowa for reopening restaurants quickly during the pandemic and said she saw “zero indication” that Iowa would impose any new restrictions or closures on businesses.

The latest Iowa COVID-19 numbers

COVID cases in Iowa continue to rise, according to data from the New York Times. The daily average for new cases over the last seven days is 1,080, a 45% increase over the last two weeks. Hospitalizations statewide have increased by 30% in the same time period. 

Vaccinations have been increasing slowly in the state. According to the Times, 64% of Iowa adults have been fully vaccinated.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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