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'There's still a ways to go:' Restaurant industry recovers slowly


MADISON, Wis. — Longer wait times and limited hours are all noticeable at many of your favorite restaurants.

According to new research, only arts and entertainment have been hit harder than the dining industry by the worker shortage compounded by the pandemic. But recovery, though slow, is on the horizon.

It’s difficult to keep up with a crowd that’s returned in force when your employees haven’t. Sconnie Bar Manager Lucas Simon-Wambach can tell you that much.

The bar and restaurant is right down the road from Camp Randall Stadium, and with the return of football season, workers are experiencing somewhat of a pinch.

“We’re known more for our big crowds, everybody crowding together on a Badger football game,” said Simon-Wambach. “We are struggling to find staff like a lot of other places are.”

The bar isn’t alone in this struggle. According to Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonprofit research organization, Wisconsin had nearly 200,000 bar and restaurant employees before the pandemic.

Last April, that number plummeted to just above 100,000, and while unemployment across the state sits at 3.5%, the bar and restaurant industry is missing 9% of their employees.

Senior Researcher Joe Peterangelo said these disparities aren’t exactly uncommon.

“We knew that arts, entertainment, and restaurants and bars were going to be among the hardest hit,” said Peterangelo.

Among many contributing factors, he cites a lingering hesitancy among the general public toward going out.

“People are somewhat hesitant to go out as much,” said Peterangelo.

While progress is consistent towards restoring the industry, one thing is certain: it may be a while.

“There’s still a ways to go,” Peterangelo said.