The country-wide Omicron boom is worsening widespread staff shortages at restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and wineries in the inland empire as waves of workers sicken.
Seasonal flu and colds, as well as absenteeism induced by coronavirus infections, are driving closures, shortened hours and scaling down of services.
Benita Bratton, owner of The Village’s BBQ Restaurant and Catering in Downtown Riverside, closed her dining room on Wednesday, Jan. 12, when the waitress and dishwasher — 12 of her employees — fell ill.
“We have a lot of people with Omicron,” Bratton said. “It’s so prevalent right now that I want to protect my employees and my business.”
Breton worries that, if she continues to offer indoor dining, noting that people take off masks to eat, many more workers could get sick and force her to shut down completely. .
“We’re just hanging by a little thread,” she said.
She plans to offer outside food only “until things get better”.
Others have also closed. For example, the inside of a Starbucks coffee shop in Ontario was seen closed on Thursday, January 13, although the drive-thru lane was open.
On Sunday, January 9, the Pomona Starbucks which was known for its busy drive-thru was closed entirely—as was the dining room. A sign announced new, limited hours.
“When a store is experiencing temporary staff shortages, we respond by reducing hours,” Starbucks spokeswoman Abby Wadson wrote in an email on Friday, January 14.
Wadson said those decisions are made locally.
Inland Empire economist John Hsing said an increase in worker absenteeism is exacerbating the workforce shortage, leaving employers with much of the pandemic grappling with.
It’s impossible to miss the “help wanted” signs, which Hsing said “absolutely everywhere.”
“I don’t remember any period like this in the more than 50 years of tracking this stuff,” he said.
Hsing said restaurants, small retail stores and hotels are all struggling to fill positions. So are warehouse and trucking companies.
“Every truck, behind it, has a ‘Help Wanted’ sign,” he said.
A sharp increase in employee absenteeism as COVID-19 hospitalizations continues across Southern California, rising to 4,257 in Los Angeles County, 1,107 in San Bernardino County and 991 in Riverside County as of Thursday, January 13, state data shows. Used to be.
Earlier in the week, Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari pointed out that, while the particularly infectious Omikron variant is spreading rapidly everywhere, it is also infecting people faster in Riverside County than in the entire state. . She said the high infection rate may be due to the types of businesses prevalent in the county.
“We have a lot of hospitality industries – a lot of interaction between people,” Saruvatari said.
Ivonne Sarmiento-Hernandez, the sales director of the 126-room hotel, said that acknowledging the close negotiations, and responding to the rise in worker sickness, the Residence Inn by Marriott Ontario Rancho Cucamonga increased room cleaning from daily to twice-weekly. Curbed.
He said the hotel is encouraging visitors to do mobile check-in to avoid direct contact with front-desk staff.
“For the most part, people have been very understanding,” she said.
“I was back at work yesterday (Thursday) after being sick for a week and a half,” Sarmiento-Hernandez said.
“At this point, we are still down to three people” from a staff of 22, she said. “It feels like going in waves.”
Two of the three are on the front-desk team, Sarmiento-Hernandez said. Earlier, several housekeeping workers were out at the same time.
Spike’s timing in absentia has been sometimes fortunate and sometimes disastrous.
Fortunately, said BJ Fazeli, president and founder of Fazeli Cellars Winery in the Temecula region, the stream of employees calling sick people is occurring during the slow January period that follows the bustling holiday season. The winery has been able to cover its shifts.
“If this had been happening in early December, we would have been in a lot of trouble,” Fazelli said.
For Leon Palagi, owner and executive chef at downtown riverside restaurant Mario Place, the timing couldn’t be worse.
On December 26 – the day after Christmas – half a dozen waiters and waitresses on the 45-person staff tested positive for the coronavirus, Palagi said. The next day, a cook came down with the virus.
Palagi closed the restaurant on 28 December and kept it closed all week – including on New Year’s Eve, when 300 people flocked to the eatery in the past.
“It was like slowly slamming the brakes instead of coming to a controlled stop,” he said.
Palagi and some employees offered takeout for three hours on New Year’s Eve. But in front of the Omicron spike, he said he could not in good conscience open the dining room.
“It didn’t look like a big party and a night to celebrate,” he said.
In Redlands, Olive Avenue Market owners Sonya Rozzi and Missy Van Zyl scramble to cover for three employees who went out last week.
“Missy and I are back in the kitchen just like we first opened,” Rosie said. “You do what you have to do when it’s a small business.”
Still, she said, the market couldn’t sell many baked goods “because our baker was gone.”
Rosie said the absence stresses other employees who are putting in extra hours.
“It’s been doing a week and a half,” she said.
Below Lake Elsinore, several restaurants along the downtown Main Street corridor sport signs that say, “Sorry for the delay in serving you, we have limited staff,” said Kim Joseph Cousins, president and CEO of the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce. said.
Cousins said the increase came as beloved restaurant Vincenzo’s Olive Tree—a Lake Elsinore “institution”—was having trouble finding enough cooks and workers. The eatery closed in December, he said. According to a social media post, the restaurant plans to reopen for takeout only on Tuesday, January 25, and open its dining room in February.
Despite the challenges, there is probably a silver lining to the Omicron boom, said Palagi, owner of Mario’s Place.
“It grew almost vertically,” Palagi said.
Maybe, he said, the boom – and the accompanying worker absenteeism – will drop just as fast.
Staff writer David Allen contributed to this report.