OHIO — The Ohio restaurant industry is paralyzed with uncertainty after an order from Governor Mike DeWine instructing all bars and restaurants to close effective 9 p.m. Sunday.
John Barker is the President and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association and said nearly 23,000 businesses in the Buckeye State have been affected.
“The industry is huge. It’s one of the largest employers in the state,” Barker said, “The third largest employer in the state.”
People with experience in the restaurant and bar business are aware of the industry’s ebbs and flows, but Barker said the coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly the toughest obstacle restaurant owners and employees nationwide have ever faced.
“From fine dining to quick service restaurants,” Barker said, “To food trucks to people who cater.”
DeWine said the decision to close bars and restaurants statewide was not an easy one, but a necessary means of social distancing by limiting large crowds from congregating.
Furthermore, state officials encouraged Ohioans to place take-out and delivery orders instead.
Barker said the surge of online delivery options and training in recent years should eliminate the learning curve.
“So much of the business was already in that direction to begin with,” Barker said, “So if an industry was ever ready for it, we were.”
Following this order, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are navigating uncharted territory — filing for unemployment benefits.
“It’s 585,000 jobs in the state of Ohio,” Barker said, “It’s a big economic engine.”
Lindey’s Lake House, with multiple Northeast Ohio locations, is one business whose employees are crippled by coronavirus concerns.
“It’s devastating. A lot of them have kids,” Patrick Granzier said, “We’ve got a lot of single parents. We’ve got a lot of really great employees and they have big hearts.”
Granzier is a co-owner of the local franchise. Lindey’s Lake House managers are assisting their employees with the online filing process.
“We’ve invited our employees that don’t have computers to come down and fill out using our stuff,” Granzier said, “Fill out unemployment using our computers.”
Many restaurant owners have voiced their support for DeWine following Sunday’s order to close, but are concerned for their employees who rely on those wages to pay their bills.
“All of our employees who are getting unemployment, we’re going to do a family meal for them as well,” Granzier said.
DeWine is trying to reduce some of the red tape to get financial help for folks, fast.
He started by waiving the typical five-day waiting period before a newly-laid off employee can receive unemployment benefits.
“So as soon as you are told by your employer that your position is no longer required, you’re able to immediately apply for those unemployment benefits,” Barker said.
But employees who rely primarily on tips, as opposed to their state-reported salaries, fear those benefits won’t feed their families.
“Folks who are typically tipped in restaurants, their reported earnings are obviously a lot lower,” Barker said.
The Ohio Restaurant Association is fighting to additional compensation for those workers.
“We are talking at the state and federal level to allow those employees to produce an affidavit for what their total tipped wages would be,” Barker said, “And have that be the basis for their unemployment.”
Barker suggested employees looking for work should consider applying to businesses like Donatos Pizza, which rely heavily on delivery drivers.
He said those businesses will need to hire hundreds of new employees to accommodate a huge surge in business following DeWine’s statewide mandate.
You can find answers for frequently asked questions regarding state unemployment benefits and the coronavirus on the state’s website.
If you need to apply online for unemployment benefits following Sunday’s announcement, you can do so using this link.
Ohioans may also file by phone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling 1-877-644-6562.
Late Monday afternoon, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family services instructed Ohio employers who are planning layoffs or shutdowns as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to share the following mass lay-off number with their employees: 2000180.
That WARN number is not a phone number. It is a code that will speed up the processing of unemployment benefits.
Kimberly Hall, Director of ODJFS, said the WARN number will help in processing claims.
“This measure will expedite the processing of benefits for individuals who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic and allow them to receive their first benefit payments as quickly as possible,” Hall said.