If you've dined out, you've probably noticed your favorite restaurant is operating with little or no staff at all. The Omicron variant is adding to an already existing staffing problem. "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 soaring, fewer customers coming in and staffing shortages, some 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, saying 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.