CINCINNATI — New data from U.S. Census Bureau and National Restaurant Association shows that restaurants across the country are seeing decreased sales over the start of the year.
It's no secret that the pandemic has presented its fair share of challenges to the food and beverage industry. Those challenges continue in 2022. A national report shows that restaurant sales are down $1.1 billion when comparing November 2021 to January 2022.
The omicron variant surge along with cold temps has made a negative impact on restaurants.
Moerlein Lager House was a beneficiary of the Bengals playoff run to start the new year, but through that time they’ve managed many issues, and February is typically one of the slowest months of the year.
“It is a major challenging time to be in the restaurant business,” Moerlein Lager House managing member Greg Hardman said. “We have issues with supply chain, we also have issues with inflation, and couple that with a human resource challenge of getting enough employees to staff our restaurant.”
Hardman said some of their menu items have been removed due to inflation, and some preferred items like dried barley have been substituted due to rising costs. A small difference, but over time, he said, impacts the quality customers are used to.
The Ohio Restaurant Association is keeping tabs on all the challenges facing the industry — inflation is certainly near the top of the list.
“Everybody's costs are up pretty much across the board in the restaurant space, though, it's really interesting,” ORA President and CEO John Barker said. “We're seeing some items depending on what you purchase and what your restaurant does at 40-year highs and things like beef and seafood.”
Moerlein Lager House and other restaurants along the banks face another potential issue, the Major League Baseball labor strike that threatens the start of the season.
“If there is a lockout with Major League Baseball, that is going to impact our business,” Hardman said.
But when it comes to the pandemic, many restaurants are seeing the glass half full.
“We want to be optimistic going forward,” Barker said. “I think the omicron cases coming down, that's the overall piece, right? That is very positive for business and particularly for our industry. That's so dependent on many workers. We have the second-most employees of any industry in the state of Ohio.”
Barker said the ORA is looking into securing more relief funding for restaurants that are struggling to stay open.
“The big piece, though, that we're really working on is the Restaurant Revitalization Fund,” Barker said. “About a third of restaurants who qualified and were approved got the money, about a third; two-thirds did not. Those two-thirds are hurting. And so we're asking Congress to take some of the American Rescue Funds that are already approved, already allocated for COVID relief, and help these restaurants who are desperate to survive and make it through the rest of this year.”
Restaurants hope they’ve weathered the worst of this stretch. As the temps get warmer, more guest should find their way back, especially if there is baseball on the horizon.
“We hope that they get the labor issue figured out and we can move along and have a great baseball season,” Hardman said.
For a full look at the National Restaurant Association’s findings to start the year, visit their website.