Restaurants rehire workers, some decline to return due to health concerns, lack of childcare

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For nearly two months, some breakfast-focused restaurant concepts have struggled to get by with carry out and delivery options with fewer people getting up in the morning to go work.

“It was hard in the beginning but I think for the most part, people understood,” said Maria Swallie, co-owner of Sunny Street Cafe.

Still, they have seen a few loyal customers make an effort to pickup carry out orders trying to keep the business afloat. But even that was not enough to keep the majority of the staff on the books.  

When the order came down that all restaurants and bars in Ohio would not be allowed to serve dine-in customers, wait staff and some kitchen staff were out of a job overnight.  

Some businesses set up ways to continue to communicate with their staff members and assured them that this was only temporary.

For nearly two months, employees and employers have waited and watched for the order to be lifted. This week, they learned that on May 15th they could once again serve customers on outdoor patios and reopen dining room service on May 21st.

The news jump started companies efforts to realign their stores to meet whatever requirements were put in place so they could open.  

“We’ve already got our tape measures out,” Swallie said. “We’ve already kind of started moving our tables around and really making sure we’re keeping that six-foot distance.”

Floor plans that had been designed to pack in as many guests as possible and use the largest footprint of their business as efficiently as possible were tossed out and new plans are now being drawn up to meet the six foot separation guidelines.  

Phone calls were made to employees as managers began to figure out who was available and who was not. While not every employee will be needed due to an expected reduction of volume, partially due to social distancing, available space and lack of diner confidence, there will be some employess who decline to return to work.

“I have a few employees that have had history of illness that weren’t comfortable,” said Wally Schrof, general manager of Scramblers. “They said, ‘Give me a couple of weeks. Let me see what happens.'”

The first obstacle of keeping employees from coming back to work is that some members of the workforce are older and have conditions which make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, a portion of these people in the workforce are declining offers to return to hospitality jobs that would put them on the front lines dealing with the public.  

Still, this is a relatively small portion of the restaurant workforce, and a much bigger problem is out there. That problem is a lack of available childcare services for restaurant workers. Some restaurateurs are reporting employees are unable to return to work because they have no one who can watch their children.  

“For our staff members that need that, and it’s still missing and in question, that’s really where the concern comes from,” Swallie said.

This is less likely to be a significant issue right away because volume and demand are expected to start relatively low.

Those who own a restaurant say calls to former employees are being met with excitement at the prospect of returning to work. They are also reporting an equal level of excitement from loyal clientele, most of which is an older crowd for breakfast-focused establishments. 

“By May 21st, when we can open our dining room, we will 100 percent be opening the doors at 6:30 a.m. and ready to go take care of that customer,” Schrof said.

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