Israelis flock to eateries but restaurants still face long road to recovery

“Getting 150,000 workers back to the industry is very hard,” said the head of the Restaurants Stronger Together association.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

On the heels of Israel’s wildly successful vaccine rollout and plunging infection rates, Israelis are flocking to restaurants in droves.

In March, the Israeli government permitted restaurants to open with indoor seating for vaccinated Green Pass holders and al fresco dining for all, giving Israelis the option to dine out for the first time in 6 months.

The decision has been met enthusiastically by Israelis. Channel 12 News reported that restaurant reservation app Ontopo was flooded with some 28,000 table requests in just one day.

“It’s like we were released from prison,” one man enjoying dinner with his family at the Tel Aviv port told Kan News. “It’s about time.”

It’s easy to believe that a post-Covid return to normalcy is just on the horizon, but the restaurant industry still faces a long road to recovery.

“The restaurant industry is so important in Israel and plays such a big part of Israeli life and tourism, so it’s just a shame,” Tomer Mor, head of the Restaurateurs Stronger Together Association, told The Media Line.

“It’s going to take a few years — estimation is between three and five years — to get the industry back to what it was,” he said.

Out of the some 14,000 restaurants operating in the Jewish State before the pandemic, at least 4,000 — almost one third — have shuttered their doors forever. Another 2,000 restaurants are choosing to remain closed until the Passover holiday, and 6,000 remain open strictly for takeout and delivery.

Restaurant owners are struggling to find staff. In early March, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein threatened Israelis with a Passover lockdown due to widespread violations of health guidelines on Purim.

Although there was no uptick in infections after Purim, the threat still looms real in many Israelis’ minds.

A large number of former restaurant employees prefer remaining at home until June 2021, when their unemployment benefits will run out, over returning to work at an eatery that could be closed again in the coming weeks.

“From an industry that had over 200,000 bartenders, waiters, cooks, chefs and staff, at the moment we’re at around 50,000 workers,” Mor said.

“Getting 150,000 workers back to the industry is very hard.”