Work in progress: hospitality starts reopening

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Across the US, states have started lifting Covid restrictions and foodservice operators are welcoming guests yet again, reports Tina Nielsen

In Maryland, the home state of Laura Lentz FCSI, design principal of Culinary Advisors, the vaccination roll-out has reached around 70% of the population with a first shot and the number of citizens with both jabs is creeping up towards the 50% mark. “We are re-opening, finally,” says Lentz (right). “As of last Friday, restaurants are not only open but the governor has lifted the social distancing requirements.”

Today, the only remaining limitations in foodservice operations is that diners who have not yet been vaccinated are required to wear masks indoors.

As everywhere else across the world, the American foodservice and hospitality sector has been left counting the cost of a harrowing year that has had devastating effect on many levels. According to the National Restaurant Association, in the US alone, restaurant sales in 2020 were $240bn lower than what had been forecasted and an April 2021 survey from the Association found that around 90,000 eating and drinking establishments remain closed.

Labor and supply chain challenges

Staffing levels remain below the pre-pandemic levels and it is estimated that at one point, around eight million employees were laid off or furloughed. “We continue to see positive growth in sales as consumer confidence grows,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, Research & Knowledge Group at the National Restaurant Association.

“However, it is important to note that 90% of operators say recruiting and retaining employees will likely be more difficult after the pandemic is over than it was before it began. This is a large contributor to why more than half of full-service operators and 42% of limited-service operators polled are unable to open at the maximum-allowed capacity and grow back their business — they do not have enough employees to staff the restaurant.”

For Lentz, the watchwords for operators now are staffing and supply chain issues. “Customers are starting to come back in full force but unemployment benefits are still also at full pandemic levels so many employers are having real issues getting people back at work,” she says. “In addition, I’m seeing strange supply chain issues that are just related to a number of odd conditions, still pandemic related but due to a number of different things and no one issue in particular.”

Of course, many operators will emerge from the pandemic with new revenue streams. Take outdoor dining: for many operators not an option before the pandemic but with rules eased by many states and cities they will be able to keep al fresco dining as an option for guests. In fact 91% of limited-service operators and 90% of full-service operators say they will continue offering customers expanded outdoor seating if their jurisdiction continues to allow it after the coronavirus crisis is over.

Tina Nielsen