Ohio restaurant owners worry about pandemic’s long-term effects on business

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Many of Ohio’s bars and restaurants have a grim outlook as business lags from COVID-19 health restrictions.

Monday, the Ohio Restaurant Association released its latest results from a business impact poll. ORA president John Barker said one of the most striking revelations from the survey was the potential long-term effects on businesses.

“The limitations on restaurants and bars have just caused such economic impact because you cannot generate enough revenue,” Barker explained.

According to the poll, 80 percent of respondents do not anticipate breaking even in 2020. More than half say they’ve lost 20-70 percent of their business during the pandemic. Fifty-six percent of restaurants believe they’ll be forced to close within 9 months if they continue operating at their current capacity. Less than one quarter of restaurants think they can stay open indefinitely.

“We have people that we know that had to fire staff or shut restaurants down or lose their own job. It’s just heartbreaking for everyone, but particularly this industry,” said Kevin Crowley, the owner of the Lox Bagel Shop in the Short North.

Crowley considers his restaurant among the lucky ones. He explained his staff quickly pivoted to take-out and patio dining only and were able to capitalize on the work-from-home schedules of people who live nearby.

“We’ve met a ton of new regulars, who we found out lived in the neighborhood and have become great regulars of ours because they’re forced to stay at home,” he said.

Crowley also acknowledged the unprecedented stress caused by the health crisis and ever-evolving guidance from state and local health experts.

“It was just the most emotionally taxing thing you can imagine,” he said. “You’re responsible as an owner for your staff and your guests. Not to say we weren’t given enough information, but there was so much uncertainty that it was really left up to us small business owners to make these calls on the fly.”

Unlike other businesses, the Lox was not affected by a 10pm last call order for alcoholic beverages. Nearby Mike’s Grill cut its hours to meet the rule. The bar closed several times over the course of seven months: first because of the pandemic and then again after windows were broken during protests over racial injustice.

“We’ve been opened back up for about three weeks I believe. And it’s starting to pick back up now that people know we’re open,” said bartender Sandra Baker. “I’m just glad to be back and have my job back.”

Earlier this month, the National Restaurant Association released survey results showing nearly 1 in 6 restaurants is closed either permanently or long-term and the industry as a whole stands to lose $240 billion by the end of the year.

The ORA is pleading with the state to ease capacity restrictions and push its last call order from 10 p.m. to midnight. Barker also called on Congress to pass a federal aid package without delay.

“They have to take it seriously, they have to compromise, they have to come together,” he said. “Asking for relief for certain industries and small businesses is only reasonable.”

Restaurants are anticipating another round of challenges in the coming months as cooler weather may eliminate outdoor spaces used to build out capacity and social distance.

In conversations with state and local health departments, Barker said the vast majority of bars and restaurants are closely following rigorous safety practices. The ORA is planning a number of campaigns to encourage more customer support for local businesses.

“You know how important restaurants and bars and coffee shops and ice cream shops are,” Barker said. “They really make the neighborhood.”

Coronavirus in Ohio resources:

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