Local Red Robin restaurants to keep staff working during shutdown

Stacy Wescoe//December 17, 2020

Local Red Robin restaurants to keep staff working during shutdown

Stacy Wescoe//December 17, 2020

The Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group has pledged to keep its 1,400 Red Robin employees employed during the 3-week shutdown. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


Many small businesses in the region say the latest COVID-19 shutdown is even harder than the first one was.

Without the federal aid that came with the first shutdown in the spring, many are finding it much harder to stay afloat with the reduced capacity.

The Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group is no different, said Mike Axiotis, president and CEO of the Red Robin franchise, which has locations throughout the Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania. But despite the challenges, Axiotis said his company pledged to keep its 1,400 employees working during the three-week shutdown.

“That’s the plan right now,” said Axiotis. “There’s just no way I can do that to our people at this time of the year.”

The restaurants’ current revenue won’t cover the cost of keeping all the employees working during that time on takeout and delivery orders alone, but the company will dip into its savings to make it happen, he said. During the last shutdown the franchise laid off about 90% of its then 2,000 employees. When the shutdown ended only 1,400 came back, and he doesn’t want to see that kind of employee loss again.

While the restaurant group will be keeping everyone on the schedule, hours and duties may be reduced. Servers may be taking phone calls for pick-up and delivery orders, for example, but they will be working.

“People who were working 30 hours a week may only get 15 hours per week,” he said.

The good news is that those employees will qualify for partial unemployment to make up the difference.

With the restaurant group still understaffed because of the losses from the last shutdown it seemed like the smart thing to do to keep employees working so that they knew they were wanted and valued, Axiotis said. But if the shutdown goes longer than three weeks, the plan may not be sustainable.

“If you’re just in takeout mode for an extended period of time, it’s just not sustainable,” Axiotis said.

The spring shutdown was supposed to last two weeks, but ended up being 15, he said. If that happens again, Axiotis will have to rethink staffing levels.

In the meantime, he’s asking customers to buy gift certificates and order curbside pickup for the next couple of weeks to help restaurants, like Red Robin, stay afloat during the difficult time.

He’s also asking the federal government to come through with assistance for businesses in the hospitality industry saying that even those that made it through the first shutdown may not have enough resources to make it through this one.