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Restaurants say whiplash of COVID-19 surges are driving them into the ground

Posted at 12:37 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-14 13:40:09-05

If you've dined out during the pandemic, you've probably noticed your local restaurants are operating with reduced or even dramatically reduced staffing. The Omicron variant is adding to an already existing staffing problem for the restaurant industry.

"We knew that it just was one more wave, one big variant, one bad winter away from disaster for a lot of restaurants, and that reality is quickly settling in at bars and restaurants throughout the country," said Caroline Styne, co-founder of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. 

With food prices going up, along with the cost of just about everything, fewer customers have also been dining in at restaurants around the country. All of those challenges add to the already huge problem with staffing shortages in the restaurant industry, and some of those businesses say they're on the brink of closing permanently. 

"It could be the end of January. It could be into March or April. But, it's not very long," said Bret Csencsitz, managing partner at Gotham Bar and Grill. 

Restaurant Business Magazine cites the research firm Placer.ai, that reports restaurant visits for the week of Dec. 20 were more than 10% lower than the same time in 2019. And the National Restaurant Association in November said 77% of restaurants reported not having enough employees.

Some of those lucky enough to have enough workers say they're now having to pay them even when they're closed because the demand for labor is so high. 

"I have no business, but please come work for us and we'll pay you. You know that's not normal logic and business," said Michael Dorf, CEO of City Winery.

Businesses say the whiplash of COVID-19 surges are driving them into the ground, as owners struggle to keep their doors open. Industry advocates say these current problems will have an economic ripple effect throughout the country. 

"The financial hit to the country is huge when you lose restaurants to the neighborhood, to the community, and to the job market in general," Styne said. 

This story was originally published by Meg Hilling and Bianca Facchinei of Newsy.