How will omicron affect the restaurant industry? – Quartz

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The covid-19 pandemic has rocked the restaurant industry. But as restrictions on indoor dining have eased and customers have steadily returned, the new omicron variant threatens to block or reverse that progress. The question the industry is now facing is how the variant might affect restaurant rules and consumer confidence.

Overall, restaurants are among the most regulated businesses when it comes to health and safety. And throughout the pandemic, which is now almost two years old, restaurants have made drastic changes – from looking to delivery and take-out, to investing in technology in response. to labor shortages or to implement mask mandates – to adapt to the new normal.

The delta variant led to the introduction of vaccination mandates, via national and local legislation or the restaurants themselves. “We’re miles ahead because we already have all of these procedures in place and have been living with this pandemic for so long,” says Caroline Styne, Independent Restaurant Coalition co-founder and co-owner. of the Lucca group, which includes restaurants like AOC and Larder Baking Company, in Los Angeles.

Restaurants have experienced a patchy recovery

The pandemic had hit the industry hard. From May, 90,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long term, according to the National Restaurant Association. Even big chains like McDonald’s and Chik-fil-A have closed dining halls due to hiring issues and increasing cases of covid-19.

The omicron variant could hurt restaurants that don’t have alfresco dining or are struggling financially. “And with this news on omicron, it’s started to push them over the edge, and whoever’s on the verge of surviving, is probably admitting that they’re not going to make it,” Styne said. “The minute your reservation goes down, your income or your ability to pay rent is gone. In September, the coalition had asked Congress for a targeted relief package for restaurants.

Overall, many companies are still on the wait. Styne says restaurants are currently talking about investing more in outdoor dining if people don’t want to sit indoors or more in PPE.

So far omicron has had no impact on bookings

Not much is known about the effect of omicron, regarding its severity and resistance to vaccines. As of Nov. 28, reservations at dining establishments have not declined, according to data from OpenTable, a restaurant reservation company. Overall, in the United States, bookings on OpenTable are up 4% and 7% globally compared to the same day in 2019.

But the road to recovery is uneven in larger cities and could be delayed if plans to return to the office continue to be delayed. Bookings for seated diners are down 29% in New York compared to the same day in 2019. For Los Angeles, they are 16% and for Chicago, 26%. In these cities, last week, only about a third of workers returned to their desks, according to The data de Kastle, a property management company that tracks access card swipes.

“In New York, it is already mandatory to show proof of vaccination for indoor meals, so we hope that this new variant will not have a significant impact once we know more about it”, said Andrew Rigie, executive director of NYC. Hospitality Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for city restaurants, in an email. “Restaurants still face a long road to recovery and it would be particularly devastating for small businesses and workers if people canceled their reservations and businesses canceled the holidays they had been counting on.”

Styne mentioned that one of her restaurants that she recently opened in downtown LA would be open Monday through Friday, but lunch hours aren’t as busy due to the fact that the offices of the region are not filled. “People who work from home are going to have an effect on our industry for quite a long time,” says Styne.


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