Summit County restaurateurs welcome the possibility of increased capacity, but staffing continues to be a concern
Staffing in the service industry has been an issue in Summit County as capacity restrictions have fluctuated dramatically over the past year between no in-person dining and 50% capacity, forcing some workers to call it quits and leave the area. Recent changes to the state’s COVID-19 dial mean counties can move between restriction levels faster than before, but it remains to be seen whether restaurants will have the staff to open at higher capacities.
At Silverthorne’s Jan. 27 work session, council member Mike Spry brought up the issue, stating that local businesses are concerned there is a “significant employee shortage” in the county. He pointed out the plethora of “now hiring” and “help wanted” signs on stores in town.
“Talking with the restaurant organization, their comments are, ‘We really want to go back to 50 people or 50% or fully open up, but we couldn’t do it if we wanted to right now,’” Spry said. “And those are some of the concerns that I think we’re going to need to really try to address on ‘How can we revitalize our community?’”
If Summit County meets the new level orange metrics this week, businesses that are part of the 5 Star Business Certification Program would be able to open with level yellow capacity under the state’s shorter seven-day timeline. The new level yellow allows for restaurants to open with 50% capacity or up to 150 people, whichever is fewer.
In a phone call with the Summit Daily News on Monday, Sunshine Cafe owner Spry said making the move from 25% to 50% isn’t much of a concern for his restaurant, which is five-star approved. However, he said that keeping up services that have increased throughout the pandemic, like takeout orders and cleaning, take time away from normal guest service.
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“If you’re going to go beyond 50%, and then still maintain all these other components, there’s just a heck of a lot of work that a lot of folks might not be prepared for,” Spry said. “In my mind, with moving up a notch, I don’t think it should be a concern for a lot of folks. But going from zero to 60 would be a concern.”
Spry said it will help if increasing capacity coincides with the shoulder season. That way, by the time the busier summer season hits, restaurants would be staffed appropriately.
Spry also pointed out another issue with staffing: There are employees who have jobs and want to work but aren’t able to work as many hours as they might want because of child care needs. He said that if kids can get back in school full time as capacity restrictions ease, the issue could be alleviated.
Sunshine Cafe is continuing to hire, Spry said, and will offer more shifts and hours to existing employees to adjust to a capacity increase. He noted that the restaurant as a whole is anxious to get to 50% capacity.
Jonny Greco, owner of Greco’s Pastaria, said staffing also is a concern for his restaurant. He said Greco’s, which is five-star certified, has three bartenders and three servers employed. Typically, the restaurant runs with five bartenders and seven to eight servers. He noted that the restaurant suspended lunch service during the pandemic mainly due to staffing issues. Like other restaurateurs, Greco said he has seen several staff members move out of the county during the pandemic. He plans to work on hiring more staff ahead of a potential capacity increase but is worried about a lack of available workers.
“I know that housing is a big challenge right now, so I don’t think a lot of people are moving here,” Greco said. “I’m not sure what the labor pool is at the moment. … I guess we’ll have to attempt to hire and see if we get applications actually coming in. Then we’ll really know.”
Despite concerns about hiring, Greco is optimistic his restaurant, along with the rest of the county, is starting to take slow steps to return to normal.
“We’re excited to go in the right direction,” Greco said.
Tim Applegate, who owns several restaurants around the county — including Sauce on the Blue, Sauce on the Maggie, Quandary Grille and Inxpot Cafe — said his restaurants have been preparing for an increase in capacity by adding days for existing staff, hiring a few new employees and rehiring some employees who left the county earlier this winter but came back.
“Not to say that it’s not going to be a challenge, but we knew that hopefully we were going to get to this point, and we have been preparing for this for the last two months,” Applegate said.
Applegate said a move to 50% capacity might not change much for restaurants around the county because tables still have to be spaced 6 feet apart, which could prevent 50% capacity at many businesses. He speculated most restaurants would be able to add only two to three tables. Nevertheless, with the possibility of restaurants being able to bring in more customers, Applegate said his staff is “eager” to take on more tables and hours.
“Staff is going to pick up more hours. Managers are going to do more work. The owners are going to do more work,” Applegate said. “We’re going to do whatever we can do to feed as many people as possible and hopefully get one step closer to being done with this.”
With light at the end of the tunnel, Applegate noted that, despite criticism, he feels the county commissioners and local public health department have worked to keep restaurants open to the extent that they are able. He added that restaurant workers should be further prioritized by the state for vaccinations because they are expected to interact with hundreds of people per day.
• Incidence rate: 432.5 new cases per 100,000 people
• Positivity rate: 7.1%
• Incidence rate: 300-500 new cases per 100,000 people
• Positivity rate: 10% or less
• Incidence rate: 100-300 new cases per 100,000 people
• Positivity rate: 7.5% or less
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