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Two weeks after five prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, lifted their requests for dining establishments to shorten operating hours, customers are still not flocking back to restaurants and bars in large numbers.

The number of customers “remains below the levels before novel coronavirus infections began to spread,” an industry official said.

Still, there are signs that diners are slowly returning.

According to restaurant booking website operator Gurunavi Inc., the number of online restaurant and bar reservations in October rose 2.4 times from September, when many prefectures were under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

Many users have been making reservations for smaller groups and bookings are increasing, particularly after the requests for shorter hours were lifted Oct. 25, a Gurunavi official said.

However, izakaya pubs are still facing challenges given that many people work from home now and have fewer opportunities to go out as a result.

Watami Co. restarted operations at all of its izakaya pubs but most of them now close at 11 p.m.

The number of customers “drops sharply after 8 p.m.,” Chairman Miki Watanabe said.

The number of diners at family restaurants is increasing but business tails off after 9 p.m., people in the industry said.

Restaurants and bars are also struggling to secure employees.

After the virus started spreading in the country last year, many part-timers in the industry left their jobs.

Last month, the number of available part-time jobs increased in almost all categories of the restaurant and bar industry, according to job information provider Mynavi Corp.

The rise was especially pronounced for izakaya and bars, growing fourfold in the past week.

Even though the number of applicants is rising, “the pace hasn’t reached the rate of growth in available jobs,” a Mynavi official said.

Restaurants and bars are trying to secure workers, including by lending and borrowing staff between their establishments.

However, the situation is “tough especially in city centers, where many students used to work,” said an official at a major restaurant operator.

“We have a sense of crisis as job applicants have been decreasing since summer,” said an official at a major family restaurant chain.

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