The omicron variant of COVID-19 surged through the holiday season, severely impacting the hospitality industry.

Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said that increased spending during a typical holiday season usually brings revenue for hospitality businesses such as restaurants and hotels up to their annual goals right before the new year.

This year, however, consumer spending dropped off in the last two weeks of the year due to the omicron variant.

“We lost those last two weeks in December,” Anton said.

Viry Delgado, owner of COA Mexican Eatery and Tequileria in Mount Vernon, said that omicron and the recent snow had impacts on her restaurant during the holiday season.

Two of her employees tested positive for COVID-19 near Christmas, which meant that they could not work for 10 days, Delgado said.

The 10-day quarantine is a company policy despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reducing its quarantine guidelines from 10 days to five.

“It’s been a challenge but we’re moving forward,” Delgado said.

Adding to the loss in spending during the holiday season, a worker shortage that is affecting most industries has hit the hospitality industry especially hard.

The omicron variant could result in 15 to 20% fewer employees in the hospitality industry statewide, Anton said.

Delgado knows all too well the challenge of finding workers.

“It’s really hard to find people who are willing to stay,” she said.

The restaurant had to close on Mondays for a few months because of staffing shortages, but was able to stay open seven days a week again when Delgado hired another server and cook.

Soon after that, the server and another cook quit, so the restaurant again had to shorten its hours, Delgado said.

On a busy shift, servers at the restaurant can serve upward of 80 people in four hours, which discourages employees from staying in the restaurant industry due to increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, she said.

When the restaurant is short staffed, restaurant managers and owners are required to pick up the slack, Delgado said.

Anton said that business owners will need to re-evaluate their operations and business hours to adjust to the shrinking workforce.

The old obligation to stay open seven days a week will need to shift based on profit, Anton said.

He recommends business owners take advantage of technology to relieve stress on their employees and accommodate time-off requests, especially with younger workers who tend to value flexible work schedules.

Worker scarcity isn’t going away anytime soon, Anton said.

He predicts it will take three to five years for restaurant and hotel owners in the state to get their workforce back to pre-pandemic levels.

Delgado maintains a positive attitude despite disruptions to her business due to the omicron variant and worker shortages.

“I think right now, we’re learning to live with it and to work around it,” Delgado said about operating her business during the pandemic.

Despite a comeback from the hospitality industry since the beginning of the pandemic, Anton said that many lodging and food service businesses are in debt from COVID-19, and they are short on time to pay it off.

Reporter Maddie Smith 360-416-2139, msmith@skagitpublishing.com

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