Will new omicron COVID variant have an impact on Ohio restaurants?

Coronavirus

CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio (WJW) – With the omicron COVID variant now reported in the U.S., local restaurateurs are cautiously watching public reaction, wondering how it could impact what is expected to be a busy holiday season.

NCR Ventures, owner and operator of six popular Cleveland area restaurants including Lindey’s Lake House in the Flats, Bar Italia in Lakewood and Beachwood is preparing to open JoJo’s Bar in Chagrin Falls this month.

“We actually have more experience now opening restaurants during a pandemic. We only opened three before the pandemic,” said Tim Davin, director of operations for NCR Ventures.

Opening a restaurant during the pandemic is getting more familiar for Davin, but when news of the new COVID variant reported in California reached him, it did spark a bit of worry.

“Of course we’re worried about that happening, but it’s kind of out of our hands,” said Davin. “We don’t really worry so much as plan ahead of time.”

The Ohio Restaurant Association is hearing similar feedback from members concerned about public perception of the new variant and how it could disrupt a busy December for restaurants.

“Fingers are crossed that this does not have a negative impact. We just don’t know yet,” said John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

“Delta had an impact, sales slowed down for a couple of months,” he said. “We’re really crossing our fingers and hoping for a good December because it’s a big month particularly for our fine dining and sit-down restaurants.”

The arrival of Delta caused a loss of momentum for the industry. Barker said 10% of consumers started to decrease how frequently they dined indoors at restaurants.

Complicating the issue of a new variant and public reaction to it is the continued shortage of employees, along with supply chain problems for the industry and inflation.

“We lost about 1.1 million people out of the restaurant industry who after the furlough didn’t come back,” said Barker.

NCR Ventures was able to survive the early days of the pandemic by pivoting from full-service restaurants to carry out.

“We’re probably going to open this restaurant with fewer tables than we normally would for a couple reasons,” said Davin about JoJo’s Bar. “One, that staffing issue and two, social distancing is still in people’s minds.”

Although the outlook on the omicron COVID variant remains unclear, restaurateurs say they’re doing what they can to ensure the safety of customers while still trying to operate successfully.

“Through all of this, we’ve really learned to adapt and run leaner and tighter and be more productive,” said Davin.

Barker said he continues to advocate for financial support on behalf of membership at the state and federal level. That includes working with Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund so additional restaurateurs can receive funding lost during the pandemic.

“We have lost 3,150 restaurants since the pandemic and what we are trying to do, obviously, is make sure it’s not even one more,” said Barker.

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