Restaurants struggling as one of the busiest nights of the year approaches

Consumer demand up, but providing service with omicron hitting staff is challenging South Florida eateries

With the spread of the omicron variant affecting already shorthanded restaurants, many owners are scrambling to prepare for one of the busiest nights of the year.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Restaurant owners said they have never really recovered from staffing shortages since the start of the pandemic. Now with the spread of the omicron variant affecting already shorthanded businesses, many are scrambling to prepare for one of the busiest nights of the year.

On the bright side, consumer demand is still there. Owners are seeing people coming in, but the drawback is that they are bracing for the challenges of providing service to customers over the New Year’s holiday.

Carlos Gazitua is on the executive committee for Florida’s Restaurant Lodging Association and the Chief Executive Officer of Sergio’s Restaurant chain. He said it is the most difficult it is has been since March 2020 to keep a restaurant’s doors open.

“This is a day-to-day. I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Who’s coming into work today? Is someone sick?’ "

Safety remains a concern as many businesses in South Beach want to welcome customers, but managers and owners are not sure who will be well enough to work.

“The question is, and if consumer demand is there, but you don’t have employees, you really can’t stay open. And I think that’s really the focus right now — keeping your employee safe, keeping the consumer safe.”

At Sergio’s Coral Way location, the indoor dining room is temporarily closed. Customers are being served at outdoor tables due to staff shortages and robots are pitching in—bringing out food and helping bus tables to keep servers free for customers.

Gazitua has advice for anyone considering going out to a restaurant for New Year’s Eve.

“If you’re going to go out this weekend I would call; making sure there’s communication prior that they have the staff to meet your needs,” Gazitua said.

Some restaurants are taking extra steps to keep everyone safe. Several restaurants in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are again requiring masks be worn by all of their staff and those working in the kitchen to help customers be assured that they are in a safe dining experience. But it is also to protect staff and prevent even more people from calling out sick.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.