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Delta variant causing restaurant industry slowdown, leaders ask Congress for more federal aid

restaurant worker shortage
Posted at 5:10 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 18:24:37-04

CLEVELAND — The combination of continued staffing shortages and the Delta variant is putting the restaurant industry on shaky ground heading into fall.

Now, leaders in all 50 states, including Ohio, are asking Congress for more financial help before things get worse.

The National Restaurant Association, along with restaurant associations in each state, wrote a letter to Congress asking them to replenish the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund with an additional $60 billion.

The first round of funding earlier this year provided $28.6 billion to eligible restaurants. Only 101,000 out of the 278,000 restaurant operators who applied received funding.

Laurie Torres, the owner of Mallorca restaurant in Downtown Cleveland and president of Cleveland Independents, received some of that funding. She said it helped immensely after a rough 2020.

“I personally took a lot of personal money from my kids' college funds to make sure that my staff was paid and that the bills were paid,” said Torres.

Thankfully, 2021 started a little differently thanks to the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“We really started to see a recovery over the summer and actually just an extreme amount of interest in restaurants and a boom,” said Torres.

But now, it seems like the pendulum is swinging the other way for the restaurant industry.

“In August those numbers that were up, are starting to go down again,” said Torres.

Ohio Restaurant Association president and CEO John Barker said the slowdown is being driven by concerns about the delta variant, and that results from a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association last month backs that up.

Six in 10 adults said they’ve changed their restaurant usage as a result of the delta variant.

But it's not just COVID, Barker said the labor shortage is still a huge factor.

“Sometimes those wait times are more than folks are comfortable with. And that's very unfortunate for everybody,” said Barker.

Torres hasn’t been spared on that front.

“A couple of weeks ago, we did 300 people with two waiters, two bussers, and a food runner, and myself of course,” said Torres.

But she credits the money from the RRF for helping her make it through tough times like those.

“RRF was crucial to be able to survive that, to be able to pay those back debts and also to be able to strategize for the future,” said Torres.

Ohio restaurants received $586.8 million of that money. But still, 6,804 restaurants in Ohio walked away with nothing.

That’s why the ORA teamed up with the National Restaurant Association on the letter to Congress.

“If they don't have any other way to get financing to kind of help them out of this, we're going to see more closures. And that's that,” said Barker.

Torres wants to avoid that at all costs because she believes the effects will be devastating.

“If these restaurants don't survive, it is a complete shift in our culture. Everything about what we do on the weekends and our holidays and everything, it's all based in the food and the restaurant industry,” said Torres.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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