Survey: Restaurants still fighting COVID effects

Ohio restaurants are still fighting COVID-19 effects, including Mother Stewart's Brewery in Springfield. Contributed

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Ohio restaurants are still fighting COVID-19 effects, including Mother Stewart's Brewery in Springfield. Contributed

Winter months tough on businesses like Mother Stewart’s Brewing in Springfield.

Ohio restaurants are continuing to face headwinds amid the current surge in the COVID pandemic.

In Ohio, 90% of restaurants experienced a decline in customer demand for indoor on-premises dining in recent weeks, as a result of the increase in coronavirus cases due to the omicron variant, according to a new report by the Ohio Restaurant Association.

The association said in recent weeks:

• 57% reduced hours of operation on days they are open;

• 34% closed on days they would normally be open;

• 18% reduced seating capacity;

• and 9% changed to only offering off-premise dining for a period of time.

John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, said a survey of Ohio operators shows the omicron variant led to a rapid deterioration in restaurant business conditions in late December and so far in January.

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“All signals for our industry are red, with declining customer traffic, soaring inflation for food and supplies, and ongoing pressure on employee shortages,” Barker said. “This is on top of a 22-month rollercoaster for our industry that resulted in more than 3,150 restaurants closing in our state.”

Kevin Loftis, managing member at Mother Stewart’s Brewing in Springfield, said they’ve seen a major drop in indoor patrons, like all the other restaurants.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we are down nearly 20% (2019 versus 2021), with 2020 seeing numbers over 50% lower than 2019,” he said.

Loftis said the business “rebounded well” last year during the summer due to their outdoor space, but that was brief. He said their capacity is back to normal after being reduced in 2020, but the numbers are not.

Loftis said COVID-19 “gutted” them since the business is an event-driven brewery. However, the beginning of 2020 outperformed the beginning of 2019, which was their first profitable year.

“Mother Stewart’s has done its best to continue to operate normally, and within any health department guidance, throughout these past several years. It has been a strain on all retail-oriented businesses,” he said.

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Due to COVID-19, the declined patronage and winter season, the brewery has reduced hours and closed an extra day. They are closed on Monday and Tuesdays. They are open from 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays; 3 to 11 p.m. on Fridays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays; and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

The Ohio Restaurant Association is pushing for more money to be added to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which helped bail out many local restaurants earlier in the pandemic.

Established through the American Rescue Plan Act in the spring of 2021, the fund is a $28.6 billion federal grant program administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In Ohio, 97% of fund recipients said the grant made it more likely that they would be able to stay in business during the pandemic and 72% said the grant helped them retain or hire back employees that would otherwise have been temporarily or permanently laid off.

“The National Restaurant Association and ORA are calling on Congress to pass the RRF Replenishment Act to help restaurants weather the winter and survive,” said Barker.

By the numbers: Ohio’s restaurant recovery

64% of operators say their sales volume in 2021 was lower than it was in 2019.

Only 27% of operators reported a same-store sales increase between 2019 and 2021.

Much of the sales growth in 2021 was driven by higher menu prices, as restaurant operators were forced to offset sharply rising costs throughout their restaurant.

83% of operators say their restaurant’s total costs (as a percentage of sales) were higher in December 2021 than they were in December 2020.

Only 8% of operators reported lower costs.

Source: Ohio Restaurant Association