Cancellations, cases and closures: Omicron hits California restaurants

At a time when restaurants typically benefit from holiday groups and last-minute shoppers, businesses across the state are suffering from cancellations and closures due to rising coronavirus cases.

In Los Angeles, a handful of restaurants are canceling customer reservations or changing staffing levels to accommodate outbreaks among employees, Eater LA reported.

Popular restaurant group Gjelina reported 28 new cases of Covid-19, according to the Los Angeles Times, and said it planned to operate with a limited staff due to “the increase in positive Covid cases” according to a article on his Instagram page.

Other restaurants like Bestia and Bavel in the Arts District have emailed notices of canceled reservations to customers due to staff members with symptoms or confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to Eater LA.

In San Francisco, anecdotal evidence suggests restaurant reservations have fallen about 30% this week alone, said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Bisnow.

“Some of this may be related to weather conditions, but I’m sure some of this is related to the concern over omicron,” Thomas wrote.

Still, Thomas hasn’t heard many examples of restaurants closing due to employee outbreaks, which she attributes to San Francisco’s requirement that diners inside present proof of vaccinations and that the workers are masked.

In San Francisco, rates of Covid-19 cases have doubled in the past five days, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. In LA County, hospitalizations and case rates have risen sharply over the past two weeks, but are still a far cry from last year’s surge, the Los Angeles Times reported.

This increase is seen across the country as the omicron variant spreads rapidly, accounting for around 73% of all Covid-19 cases nationwide.

Latino Restaurant Association CEO and Executive Director Lilly Rocha said bisnow Tuesday that association members reported numerous reservation cancellations in the past 48 hours, but did not provide a figure. These cancellations represent a significant setback to restaurant profits, especially in cases where large parties have canceled a reservation.

“They have already bought food for these parties,” Rocha said.

While Rocha hasn’t seen many coronavirus-related closures among member restaurants, most are waiting to see if further restrictions — or worse, another lockdown — might be on the horizon. Indoor dining was off the table in LA County for much of 2020 and didn’t return until early spring 2021, and restaurants are still working to come back from that time.

Consumer reluctance to dine out impacts spontaneous business, especially during a typically busy holiday season. Border Grill and Socalo Chef and co-owner Mary Sue Milliken told The Hollywood Reporter that sales at her downtown and Santa Monica restaurants were down 20% over the weekend.

“The biggest drop is just walk-in businesses, on a whim,” Milliken said. “I think people feel more like, ‘Hmm, maybe I should stay home.'”

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