CINCINNATI — New data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Restaurant Association shows restaurants across the country are seeing declining sales at 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. These challenges continue into 2022. A national report shows restaurant sales were down $1.1 billion when comparing November 2021 to January 2022.
The surge in the omicron variant as well as cold temperatures have had a negative impact on restaurants.
Moerlein Lager House benefited from the Bengals’ playoff run to start the new year, but during that time they’ve dealt with a lot of issues, and February is usually one of the slowest months of the year.
“It’s a tough time to be in the restaurant business,” said Greg Hardman, managing member of Moerlein Lager House. “We have issues with the supply chain, we also have issues with inflation, and add to that an HR challenge to recruit enough employees to staff our restaurant.”
Hardman said some of their menu items were cut due to inflation and some favorite items like dried barley were replaced due to rising costs. A small difference, but over time, he said, it impacts the quality that customers are used to.
The Ohio Restaurant Association is keeping tabs on all the challenges facing the industry – inflation is definitely high on the list.
“Everyone’s costs are going up pretty much everywhere in the restaurant space, though, that’s really interesting,” said ORA President and CEO John Barker. “We see certain items based on what you buy and what your restaurant is doing at 40-year highs and things like beef and seafood.”
Moerlein Lager House and other restaurants along the shores are facing another potential problem, a strike by Major League Baseball workers threatening the start of the season.
“If there is a lockout with Major League Baseball, it will impact our business,” Hardman said.
But in the face of the pandemic, many restaurants are seeing the glass half full.
“We want to be optimistic about the future,” Barker said. “I think the omicron cases that come in, that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? It’s very positive for companies and especially for our industry. It depends so much on many workers. We have the second highest number of employees of any industry in the state of Ohio.”
Barker said the ORA is considering getting more relief funds for restaurants that are struggling to stay open.
“The big chunk, though, that we’re really working on is the Restaurant Revitalization Fund,” Barker said. “About a third of qualified and approved restaurants got the money, about a third; two-thirds did not. These two-thirds suffer. And so we’re asking Congress to take some of the US bailout funds that are already approved, already allocated for COVID relief, and help those restaurants that are desperate to survive and survive the rest of this year.
The restaurants hope to have overcome the worst of this period. As temperatures warm, more guests should find their way home, especially if there’s baseball on the horizon.
“Hopefully they fix the labor issue and we can move on and have a great baseball season,” Hardman said.
For a full rundown of the National Restaurant Association’s findings to start the year, visit their website.