Restaurants are as worried as omicrons, the cost of eating is so high



While restaurants in the US and UK are open unrestricted and often bustling, they are entering the second winter of the coronavirus pandemic and are worried about what lies ahead: They are squeezed by the situation. Labor shortages and soaring food costs and omicron variation are emerging.

“I am extremely worried. I never felt like we were out in the woods,” said Caroline Glover, chef and restaurateur Annette in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The rapid spread of omicrons has been rocking the industry in the UK and elsewhere, with restaurants, hotels and pubs reporting cancellations at the busiest and most lucrative time of year. Businesses urged the UK government to bail out after officials warned people to think twice about socializing. Scotland and Wales have pledged millions of pounds in support for businesses, putting more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to do the same in Britain.

“It was pretty devastating. As for the private tenants, larger tables of eight to 16 people, these people are pretty much gone. This is the bread and butter for restaurants at Christmas,” said Jeff Galvin, co-owner of Galvin Restaurants, a group of five luxury venues in London.

Many businesses said hundreds of corporate holiday lunch reservations disappeared almost overnight as infections began to soar, and Johnson announced tighter restrictions, including starting Masks are required in most indoor spaces, although restaurants remain open as usual.

Glover in Colorado is worried about new restrictions if infections soar. Now the business is back on, with her dining room back up and running at full capacity – up from a 50% cap last year – and four outside greenhouses already heavily booked.

Likewise, diners have returned and business has gone well for Amy Brandwein, who owns the Italian restaurant Centrolina and a small coffee shop, Piccolina, in Washington. After her restaurants survived lockdowns with takeout and grocery services, “I can safely say we’re back to 2019 levels,” she speaks.

But staffing remains a challenge. In a recent survey of 3,000 restaurant operators in the US, 77% said they don’t have enough workers to meet demand, according to the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group.

Many restaurant workers are starting new careers or have gone back to school. Jada Sartor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has seen her pay rise from $10 per hour to $16 per hour this year as restaurants grow more desperate for workers, but recently She quit her job as a waitress because she couldn’t find affordable babysitting services.

“The cost of living is so high you can’t really afford to live,” she said.

Kristin Jonna, owner of the Vinology restaurant and bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said she has increased her salary by nearly 40% to attract and retain her 35-year-old employees, she said. But she couldn’t raise the menu prices enough to make up for it.

“Everybody knows that beef is more expensive, but high-end, high-skilled labor is also expensive,” says Jonna. “That’s the very difficult part of our business right now.”

Jonna said the restaurant is buzzing despite high levels of COVID-19 in Michigan. She has a shorter schedule of larger events, but the customers that come in are spending more.

Sales at US restaurants and bars are estimated at $73.7 billion in November, up 37% from the same month last year, according to preliminary data from the US Census Bureau. But that’s partly due to higher menu prices as restaurants try to account for inflation.

Sara Lund, owner of Bodega and The Rest, a bar and restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah, says her ingredient costs have increased between 15% and 40% this year.

“Food profit margins will never be astronomical, even in good times,” she said. “But paying 40% more for protein? I can’t pass that on to the client.”

Diners know restaurants are struggling, and many say they’ve continued to eat out to serve local favorites. Liz Cooper of Needham, Massachusetts, says she feels comfortable dining indoors with her family of five, all of whom are vaccinated except for her 4-year-old daughter.

“If you like a restaurant and a small business, you should go there and support them,” Cooper said. “They might have to close, and then you’ll be heartbroken because you can’t get your favorite chicken parm or cannoli.”

Steve Geffen, who owns four restaurants in the Chicago area, including Once Upon a Grill, said he has removed 30% of the tables from his restaurants to make sure customers feel comfortable dining outside. in. So far, it’s working.

“They don’t mind waiting longer, knowing they’re not ahead of everyone else,” he said.

But Jeanne Busch of Forest Park, Illinois, occasionally sticks to takeout.

“I certainly don’t feel comfortable not wearing a mask indoors in a crowd,” Busch said. “As we head into winter and omicrons continue to rage, we expect mostly to eat at home.”

In the UK, omicrons have wreaked havoc on restaurants and pubs. Patrick Dardis, the head of Young’s chain of 220 pubs, said he expects officials to come up with a financial relief plan soon. About 30% of the chain’s reservations were canceled last week.

“There are thousands of businesses – not just pubs – that could collapse in January if the current situation is not properly funded,” he said.

UKHospitality, an industry trade group that calls for tax relief, said concerns about omicrons have wiped out £2 billion ($2.6 billion) in revenue this month.

Restaurants are also calling for government support in the US, where the Restaurant Recovery Fund ran out earlier this year after dispersing $28.6 billion among 100,000 applicants.

Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public policy at the National Restaurant Association, said the industry needs at least $40 billion to fund the 200,000 unsubsidized applicants. So far, Congress has yet to act.

“It’s hard for restaurants to explain what’s going on when their dining rooms are full and they’re not locked,” Kennedy said.

“They thought we had fully packed it and crushed it, but the answer was, we barely made it through,” he said.

Lindsay Mescher, who opened Greenhouse Cafe in Lebanon, Ohio, in 2019, is frustrated that she never received the subsidy promised by the government. She was approved in May, but demand was so high, the funds dried up before she received any money.

She took out loans to keep her eight employees employed while providing only performance funding for the first 16 months of the pandemic. The cafe reopened to diners this year and has had a busy summer and fall, but Mescher is still struggling. For example, she used to pay $165.77 for a 400 bowl of takeout salad; now they cost $246.75.

“The funds will ensure our survival,” said Mescher. “It’s extremely unfair that some restaurants get bailouts and some don’t.”


Anderson reports from New York and Hui from London.

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Aila Slisco

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