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Employment Needs + Trends in Iowa's Restaurant Industry

Iowa Restaurant Industry

September 15, 2021


During the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Future Ready DSM podcast, guests share insights about the employment landscape for people entering the workforce, as well as those looking to advance or change their career paths with The Partnership’s Senior Vice President of Talent Development Dr. Marvin DeJear. 

In this episode of Future Ready DSM, Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, discussed employment needs and trends in the restaurant industry, including how the Iowa Restaurant Association serves more than 6,000 bars and restaurants across the state.

Impact of Pandemic + Recovery

Dunker spoke on the impact of the pandemic in March of 2020 when shutdowns began and how restaurants pivoted to drive-thru, carryout and delivery options throughout 2020. While these efforts were successful for many businesses, Dunker said that the Iowa Restaurant Association posted a $1.5 billion loss due to the pandemic. However, while they had projected a loss of 20% of the state’s restaurants and bars, that did not happen thanks to the loans, grants and other relief programs that were made available throughout the pandemic, along with customer loyalty. This resulted in a loss closer to 15%. 

In September 2021, many restaurants are still not on the path to 2019 numbers, though things are getting better. Dunker said that the number one thing preventing restaurants and bars from full recovery is the lack of workers.

Rehiring in the Restaurant Industry

Within the restaurant industry, one third of restaurants have lost critical workers to other industries, mainly within managerial roles needed to operate efficiently. Dunker said that the industry has lost people that won’t be coming back. The other group of employees lost were kitchen staff. Dunker said that 52% of the restaurant workforce is women. When child care issues came into play with school shutdowns, the industry lost a lot of the workforce. She touched on the opportunity for workers within the industry now, especially for those willing to seek out special certification.

Resources for Job Seekers

The Iowa Restaurant Association teaches a course that is an eight-hour certification critical for the industry, particularly in the age of COVID. In Iowa, state law states that one person within the establishment must be certified to know how to handle hygiene, sanitation and food safety, although the Iowa Restaurant Association goes further with this, suggesting there is one person certified per shift. The ServSafe Certified Food Protection Manager course is inexpensive training that can make a big difference for your restaurant. Upcoming class dates include:

·      Monday, Sept. 20

·      Tuesday, Sept. 28

·      Monday, Oct. 4

·      Tuesday, Oct. 12

·      Wednesday, Oct. 20

·      Thursday, Oct. 28


Find more information on ServSafe classes here.

Other topics discussed in the podcast included training and engaging high school students, diversity and increasing talent pool programs and what Dunker is looking forward to seeing within the restaurant industry in the future, including how new technology might make more of an impact.

Find more information at restaurantiowa.com.

Download this and other episodes on Apple Podcasts:

The Future Ready DSM podcast brings Greater Des Moines (DSM) employment leaders and experts in to discuss the latest trends in talent attraction and retention in the region. Hosted by Greater Des Moines Partnership Senior Vice President of Talent Development Dr. Marvin DeJear.

Future Ready DSM

The Future Ready DSM Podcast brings Greater Des Moines (DSM) employment leaders and experts in to discuss the latest trends in talent attraction and retention in the region.