Fare Share: Restaurants working overtime for return to normal

John Barker
Guest columnist
No more 6-foot distancing is required at restaurants, and with increasing rates of vaccinated Ohioans, customers are thrilled to take another step forward – an important step in our industry’s comeback from nearly 15 months of government-mandated restrictions, curfews and stay-at-home orders, writes John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

Ready, set, liftoff!

Since early June, most of Ohio’s remaining COVID-19 health orders have expired, and business is beginning to return to normal.

No more 6-foot distancing is required at restaurants to space out tables, and with increasing rates of vaccinated Ohioans, customers are thrilled to take another step forward and enjoy their favorite local fare. This is an important step in our industry’s comeback from nearly 15 months of government-mandated restrictions, curfews and stay-at-home orders.

John Barker is president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

Dropping the requirement for 6-foot distancing is the last and most important step to get restaurants and food-service locations back to 100% of their pre-pandemic capacity, which is great news.

However, the battle for a return to normal operations and profitability for most restaurants is not over. With workforce shortages at record levels, operators are struggling to recover financially, as many are forced to limit the number of tables they can serve. Many are forced to close on Mondays, during lunch or in the evening because they can’t get enough staff to work shifts.  

Our Ohio Restaurant Association team has spoken with hundreds of operators over the past month throughout the state, and while they’re thrilled to see demand for their food, service and hospitality on the rise, demand for employees is even higher, especially as we move into the summer months. They’ve tried everything from hiring and retention bonuses to job fairs to attract employees. This is certainly not a unique situation for restaurants, but we employ 585,000 people in Ohio, and we’re the second-largest private-sector employer in the state.  

In our most recent ORA Impact Poll for operators across Ohio, 65% said employee shortages are at the critical stage, and 91% said staffing is a top-three issue. To address this pressure, the ORA is working on many initiatives, including workforce development, consulting with operators about retention strategies, marketing to encourage former employees to return to our industry and attract new employees, immigration reform and advocacy to address federal unemployment benefits.

As restaurants reopen and fill seats once again, they are excited to welcome their guests, but that won’t be possible without their employees. Right now, hundreds of industry positions remain open in each of our major cities and small towns – from chefs, servers and management personnel to purchasing, accountants and suppliers. In fact, you could apply or post a job today at web.oraef.org/jobbank and find career and training resources at servsuccess.com.

As the demand for restaurants' food, service and hospitality increases, the demand for employees is even higher, writes John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

For more than 100 years, the ORA has promoted, protected and partnered with our restaurant, food-service and hospitality industry. Our mission includes encouraging people to join this incredible and wonderful industry, which offers opportunities to build a career. We are a welcoming industry for every background and upbringing.  

One of the ways we promote our industry, especially after the hardships of the past year and a half, is to host our annual Industry Awards Celebration on July 15. Each year, we spotlight the best and brightest of our industry in Ohio and honor their dedication to food service, culinary arts and service. Awards include the ORA’s Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement, Tech Titan, Nourishing the Community, Rising Star and others.

This year’s list of award winners includes many fan favorites, so be sure to follow us on social media for upcoming announcements on awardees and categories, and please purchase tickets at $25 each for the virtual event at ohiorestaurant.org/industryawards. We’ll even have a special performance from BMI musician Frank J. Myers.

Restaurants and food-service employees are the essential heartbeat of our communities. Anyone can build a successful career with hard work and commitment to excellence. Join us for the Industry Awards Celebration as we honor many who have achieved success, and let’s highlight this summer with a great virtual event.  

John Barker is president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.