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'Phase One' and unemployment: What should we expect?

Restaurant owners are rehiring staff members to service expanded outdoor dining, but will it be enough to address rising unemployment rates?

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The 'Phase One' relaxation of public health restrictions means restaurant owners can offer outdoor dining service at half capacity, creating a demand to hire back more service industry workers.

“I know for certain it’s going to bring more employees because I’m bringing at least two back this weekend," said Michael Mauch, owner of Harvest in Virginia Beach.

However, there's still a risk involved with reemployment. After nearly two months of limited or nonexistent revenues, owners will look for a consistent customer base before rehiring a full staff -- and there's no guarantee that each patio, parking lot and sidewalk will be full.

“You want to make sure that it can pay for itself, the last thing you want to do is open up under these given restrictions and it doesn’t pay for itself and ends up costing you more money," said Peter Shaw, Professor of Business Administration at Tidewater Community College.

RELATED: Hampton Roads local governments rush to help restaurants open outdoor seating

Most Hampton Roads cities report unemployment rates above 15 percent, much of that in the service industry.

Restaurant owners are adapting business models to fit Phase One restrictions, which requires employing more workers, but Shaw said mass unemployment in the service industry won't change quickly. He said owners will want to ensure revenue is there before rehiring full staff.

“Does it help? Yes. Will it make a significant, significant dent, no. You’re still operating at a small percentage of full capacity," Shaw said.

RELATED: Virginia Beach Town Center prepares for 'Phase One' changes for restaurants, stores

Some restaurant managers report their employees are asking to return to work.

“A lot of our employees have reached out already and let us know they’re here whenever we’re ready to bring them back, they’re excited to come back," said Alyxandria Zapolski, a manager at Quirks in Town Center.

But Shaw said other restaurants are having trouble restoring their staff due to increased unemployment benefits. 

“You have some people who have unemployment benefits that are paying more than they would get coming back to work. Business owners have a problem," he said.

RELATED: Lynnhaven Mall opens, but many stores inside are still closed

Major gains in employment will depend on how consumers react to restricted openings and, of course, the future spread of the coronavirus.

Various restaurant owners said Friday they’re asking everyone to take “personal responsibility” this weekend to encourage future steps of reopening, as additional public health restrictions could be even more damaging.

Shaw said any statistics on how many Phases One affected unemployment rates in Hampton Roads will likely need labor department data for complete accuracy, which could be available in about a month.

RELATED: Most of Virginia begins gradual reopening

RELATED: Virginia Beach expands outdoor dining, allowing restaurants to serve customers on sidewalks, parking lots

RELATED: Malls? Outlets? What stores will open in Hampton Roads for Phase One reopenings?