And then came Omicron. The week before Christmas, a member of our 41-person team tested positive for Covid, forcing us to close for the weekend. In two days, our restaurant lost more than $ 38,000 in revenue. Inspecting our walk-in refrigerator, I saw thousands of dollars worth of foie gras, white truffles and ducks dry-aged for two weeks. I had a sickening and familiar feeling of uncertainty and fear. I was one of many chefs and owners who felt that angry old exhaustion again as restaurants large and small faced yet another challenge.
Lazy Betty is first and foremost a restaurant reserved only for reservations. So when we were faced with many cancellations during this week leading up to Christmas, we feared the worst. Each caller said he had a Covid emergency. Many have asked if we could waive our cancellation fees.
On the one hand, we risked the inevitable obnoxious review on Yelp. On the other hand, there was the loss of revenue and the cost of the ingredients we had to throw away – a classic loss-lose situation brought on by the pandemic. In the end, we tried to convince these diners to postpone their reservations to a later date, thus delaying the possibility of cancellation fees.
The biggest challenge has been deciding when to reopen, which depends on the health of our team. This recent weekend we closed due to the positive Covid case, only five of our employees were able to get an appointment for a Covid test. After a long search I found myself with a basket full of home tests and a new Sam’s Club membership. All in all, my chef-partner Aaron Phillips and I spent just under $ 800 for 106 tests. My staff burned half of them the following Wednesday, allowing us to safely reopen.
Lazy Betty was lucky. We made smart investments early in the pandemic and our reservation policy allowed us to closely manage our food and labor costs. We share our service charge with the front-of-house, which has helped us retain staff. We also delayed repaying our investors and distributing profits to owners to increase our working capital by roughly 50%, which we spent on pandemic-related upgrades.
Others weren’t so lucky. Chef friends tell me they are considering another career. Nobody would blame them.
Our industry needs more support from government. This means supplemental health insurance for employees or rent reduction programs for restaurant owners. Easy access to free rapid tests would also help us catch infections early. President Biden has announced plans to expand free home testing. Restaurant workers and other essential workers who can only do their jobs in person should be given priority.