Area restaurants are geared up for a busy Valentine’s Day weekend as industry-wide workforce shortages continue.
Valentine’s Day, one of the biggest days of the year for restaurants, is set to be a particularly busy one this weekend with many midstate businesses reporting full houses on both Saturday and Monday.
“It should be a good weekend all the way around. There is a pent-up demand to get out,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA). “It’s one of the biggest nights of the year and this year they get a bonus because they get it on Monday night.”
This time last year Pennsylvania restaurants had indoor capacity limits placed on them by the Wolf Administration up until May. However, while restaurants can now operate at full capacity, many lack a full staff thanks to workforce shortages and staff out of work with COVID-19.
The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar in York currently has a staff that is 50 to 60% of what it was prior to the pandemic. That cut in staff means that keeping staff healthy is more important than ever.
“Currently our staff is wearing masks, but we don’t require guests wearing masks,” said Sean Arnold, chef and owner of Left Bank. “If we lose one or two staff, we lose a quarter of our front or back house. We are trying to make sure that our staff stays healthy so we can stay open.”
On the customer side, there seems to be very little reluctance about going out for the weekend following the rise of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in December and January, said Longstreet, adding that while there may be slight edginess among customers, it hasn’t stopped the reservations from flowing in.
Friday, Saturday and Monday are all nearly sold out at 1700 Degrees Steakhouse in Harrisburg. The restaurant, part of Hilton Harrisburg, expects the weekend to kick off a busy 2022 for the hotel, which already had advanced bookings from March through June.
The next step for the hotel will be to rehire its banquet staff, which took a larger hit during the pandemic.
“We see our numbers going back to a pre-pandemic volume by the fall,” said Joe Massaro, general manager at the Hilton Harrisburg. “We are feverishly looking to build back the rest of our team. We have to hire a significant amount of people for that end of the business to grow.”
While the labor market is still thin among restaurants and hotels, it has definitely improved from where it was in 2021, said Sam Wilsker, a partner at Holiday Inn Lancaster and its adjoining restaurant, The Imperial.
Like most restaurants, The Imperial had a slower January and is looking to pick up pace moving into February and March.
“The Imperial is definitely in a stronger position for Valentine’s Day this year as opposed to last year,” said Wilsker. “We are happy to welcome indoor diners this year. Last year we were only able to offer To Go meals at this time.”
The three restaurants said that they expect that the strong weekend will move into an equally strong restaurant season.
“This Valentine’s Day weekend, based on reservations, looks to be a good start to our season,” said Arnold. “November and December were good months. People came out and celebrated. We hope that continues into 2022.”