Local restaurants are looking forward to robust business this weekend and Valentine’s Day on Monday to boost their profits after two years of shutdowns, slowdowns and staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
While statewide, and even across the nation, restaurants are facing staffing shortages due to sick employees, locally, several restaurants said they are fully staffed and gearing up for a booked-up holiday weekend.
Dorothy Doyle, co-owner of Savory Grill, Macungie, said while the restaurant is normally closed on Mondays, they chose to open and have a full house.
Helga Verta, manager of Ocean in Easton, said the restaurant is at full capacity and completely booked for Valentine’s weekend and Monday.
John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA), said January is traditionally one of the slowest for the industry and that is why the holidays are so important. Last year, he said, devastated the industry as restaurants had to shutter during the two weeks they needed to carry them through January.
This year, with the Omicron variant, some customers are reluctant to go out, but most, Longstreet said, aren’t scared enough to stay away.
“As far as dining goes, one of the biggest days of the year is Valentine’s Day,” he said. “The first is Mother’s Day and the second is Valentine’s Day.”
Shaelin Flannery, night inn keeper for Glassburn Inn, Fogelsville, agreed. Valentine’s Day always brings great business. “We are completely booked and have a waiting list,” she said. “We are at 100% capacity, and we are filled.”
The bonus for the restaurants this year is that Valentine’s Day falls on Monday.
“We used to hate when Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday. This year they will have an extra night where they will have extra business,” Longstreet said.
“It should be a good weekend all the way around. There is a pent-up demand to get out,” he said.
“The entire weekend is good, so it’s making for a strong week,” said Doyle. “We didn’t pack in all the tables we used to have, but we are full. Take out helps with the seats that are missing and people who can’t be out can still enjoy a nice dinner,” she said.
Robin Wright, manager of Apollo Grill, Bethlehem, said while usually closed on Mondays, the restaurant will be open from 4-9 p.m. for Valentine’s Day. “We are totally booked on Saturday as well,” she said.
Apollo is booked every weekend, Wright said. “If you want reservations, you have to call three weeks ahead.” People are coming back, and the staff appreciate it, she added.
Nationally, staffing has been an issue as employees are getting sick and need to quarantine. Locally, that has not been the case for those interviewed.
Longstreet said that according to Hotel Effectiveness data, 51% of restaurants nationwide reported reduced hours of operation, 34% are closing days they would be open, and 26% have reduced capacity because of Omicron and the staffing crisis it caused.
“You can imagine what that will do for restaurants,” Longstreet said. “Restaurants will talk about how they can’t get the revenue they used to get because of the staffing situation. The biggest challenge won’t be to get reservations or customers, it will be to get staff to take care of customers.”
Wright said the Apollo staff have been great and staying healthy. “No one leaves here,” she said. “This is their livelihood.”
Ocean, too, does not see staffing issues. Verta said the staff has been healthy and able to keep up with demand “thankfully.”
All four restaurants said they are serving their regular menus with specials being created especially for the Valentine’s crowd. All said they are thankful for the business boost with the holiday falling as it is.
“From what I’ve seen and most of the restaurants I’m hearing from are reporting is that they are getting the customers up. Customers don’t seem to be concerned. There are less and less people wearing masks- it feels a lot like normal.” Longstreet said.