Phoenix-Area Restaurateurs Look to a Post-Pandemic Future

Some believe dining room service will come back, but that a pandemic-related increase in takeout and delivery is here to stay.
David Emrich/Unsplash
Some believe dining room service will come back, but that a pandemic-related increase in takeout and delivery is here to stay.
Phoenix restaurants have experienced a good amount of whiplash since March.

Many shut down on their own as COVID-19 crept into the state. Some closed down entirely; some offered only curbside and takeout. Then dining rooms were ordered closed. Then they were allowed to reopen their dining rooms. Now, according to Governor Doug Ducey's recent executive order, dining room capacity is limited to 50 percent.

Someday, though, the Phoenix restaurant industry will presumably return to some version of normal. What will that look like? We asked a few folks who've been thinking about just that.

Steve Chucri, presudent of the Arizona Restaurant Association. - MARICOPA COUNTY
Steve Chucri, presudent of the Arizona Restaurant Association.
Maricopa County

Arizona Restaurant Association

Arizona Restaurant Association president Steve Chucri says he believes restaurants will bounce back after all this.

“We might shift on the PnL [profit and loss] a bit from less dine-in to more takeout, but people are still going to have their love affair with restaurants,” Chucri says.

He says the emphasis on takeout, which has doubled in sales compared to pre-pandemic levels, is here to stay for the long haul. But he doesn't think third-party delivery services, like Postmates and DoorDash, are going to become the dominant method of sales.

“I think they have their place," he says. "However, I believe you would have seen a stronger utilization of them than you have."

Chucri envisions a future in which restaurateurs expand their own in-house delivery capabilities, rather than relying on a third-party service. He says the fees charged by the services are steep, resulting in minimal profit margins for the restaurants using them.

click to enlarge ATL Wings. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
ATL Wings.
Lauren Cusimano

ATL Wings

Cianna Kirksey, who owns the local chain ATL Wings with her husband, concurs with Chucri on the problem of high third-party delivery fees. Kirksey says the fees result in restaurants making little to no money from those sales after taking production costs into account. But she did identify a silver lining with third-party delivery, which is that they can increase name recognition for restaurants.

Kirksey says her business was well-positioned to weather the pandemic without much change, since ATL Wings’ primary focus is takeout.

“Everything was already set up for carryout," she says. "Dining in was just a bonus, because we had the tables and the chairs available for the customers.”

Kirksey hopes the increased focus on takeout and delivery will continue well into the future. She was even able to hire more staff, combating the trend of businesses shedding jobs as a result of the pandemic.

“With the way the whole economy is going and unemployment, we’re in a very good position right now,” she says.

click to enlarge Spinato’s Pizzeria. - SPINATO'S PIZZERIA
Spinato’s Pizzeria.
Spinato's Pizzeria

Spinato’s Pizzeria

For restaurants with more of a dine-in emphasis, of course, the situation isn't quite so sunny.

Anthony Spinato, who co-owns Spinato's Pizzeria with other members of his family, says sales were down by about 30 percent until dining rooms reopened on May 11.

But that's only part of the picture, he says. His restaurant emphasizes warm, friendly treatment toward customers, and the staff and owners have gotten to know many regular customers over the years. They built relationships with many patrons, who regularly came to see the owners and staff.

“When we couldn’t serve anybody in our restaurants, it was like a hole that was hard to fill,” Spinato says.

Since dining rooms have reopened, temperature checks, masks, and increased hand-washing have become the norm for staff. The dining room has only reopened at partial capacity, with reservations required. In a post-pandemic world, Spinato is optimistic that people will return to pack his dining rooms as before.

“We’re social people; we’re designed to go out, to be with people. People love to go out to eat,” he says.

Spinato says he believes lunch will slow down as more people work from home. Like Chucri and Kirksey, he thinks the takeout trend is here to stay.

“Convenience is the driver in the world today," he says. "With all the entertainment you have in your own home, people are picking up more, getting delivery more.”