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Make money versus stay healthy: That’s the New Year’s Eve choice for bars, restaurants

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A closed restaurant in New York during last year's holiday season.

A closed restaurant in New York during last year's holiday season. As omicron spreads, restaurants are weighing whether to remain open for New Year's — normally one of their most profitable times. Spencer Platt via Getty Images

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New Year’s Eve is a big moneymaker for bars, restaurants and nightlife venues — with big crowds devouring prix-fixe menus and all-you-can-drink specials.

​Last year, of course, many of those businesses were closed or operating at limited capacity. ​This year, omicron and staffing shortages are threatening their hopes for a return to normal.

So how are business owners planning to ring in 2022?

Despite all the worry, Barolo Grill in Denver is fully booked for New Year’s Eve — for now.

“Our phones are ringing crazily. People are checking in on email, and we’re just sort of managing the chaos,” said owner Ryan Fletter.

The Italian restaurant is serving five courses, complete with lobster and lamb, for $150. People are constantly calling to cancel reservations or book ones that have opened up. And there are other stresses: His dairy supplier was out of milk and cream this week, and it might snow on New Year’s Eve. Still, Fletter is optimistic about the evening.

“I think everybody wants to get out of 2021 and into 2022 in sort of some kind of celebratory manner,” he said.

Maybe. But the celebration might look a little different. Steve Zagor in New York City canceled his dinner reservation with friends. “And we’re actually having a Zoom New Year’s.”

Zagor is a restaurant consultant and teaches at Columbia Business School. He said New Year’s Eve is the industry’s last chance to grab some extra revenue. The fourth quarter can make up as much as 40% of the year’s business.

“October, November, December is money time. And [restaurants] really need that money time in order to be able to sustain during the dark months of January and February,” he said.

No money will be made at Elsewhere, a music venue in Brooklyn, New York. Co-owner Dhruv Chopra decided to cancel the NYE DJ event.

“You start to question things about morality. You start to question things about safety,” he said. “Well, then you’re also potentially taking wages away from people. And if you cover those wages, how is that sustainable as a business model?”

His hope for the new year is that the answers to those questions get a little easier.

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