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The restaurant industry preps for a winter with omicron

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Patrons sit at an open-air restaurant as people pass by on the sidewalk.

Amid the continued spread of the coronavirus, spending at restaurants is still below pre-pandemic levels. Scott Olson via Getty Images

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If you own a business in the service industry, there’s a lot to think about right now.

For one, we’re all waiting to hear more about the omicron coronavirus variant and see how consumers take it into account. On Friday, we’ll get November’s consumer price index and see just how much inflation is affecting the cost of everyday life — including going out to eat.

All that in mind, we decided to check up on some restaurant owners to hear how the industry is doing.

There’s plenty for Rayme Rossello to be happy about these days. Hiring at Comida, her Mexican restaurant in Aurora, Colorado, has become easier. It’ll let her reopen seven days a week, and the average table is spending more.

“You know, not just because prices are higher, but maybe they’re drinking a little bit more,” she said.

Those higher prices are affecting her business, though. The cost of avocados, limes and meat are up. She’s had to increase menu prices 15% and added a service fee because she’s also paying her employees more.

There have also been fewer customers lately. She’s not sure if it’s because of omicron or because there’s been little snow, which means less snow tourism.

“I mean, there’s a lot of things to be a little freaked out about,” Rossello said.

Inflation and slowing sales are the biggest worries right now, according to Sean Kennedy at the National Restaurant Association. Spending is still below what it was pre-pandemic, and he’s not sure how much that will change.

“All of us are looking into crystal balls and trying to identify what is the new normal,” he said.

Kennedy does think takeout and delivery are here to stay. That’s good for Shaz Khan, who co-owns Tono Pizzeria + Cheesesteaks in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. He has three locations with two more opening next year — if he can get what he needs to outfit the spaces.

“A lot of the materials we need all the way from construction materials to fittings and furnishings, they’re delayed,” he said.

Yet Khan is optimistic. He feels like he’s made it through the worst of the pandemic, even though he’s a bit stressed about sourcing Philly-style sandwich rolls and mozzarella cheese.

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