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.
Some believe dining room service will come back, but that a pandemic-related increase in takeout and delivery is here to stay.
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

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.

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.

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.

Spinato’s Pizzeria.EXPAND
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.”

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.