Local restaurants struggle as workers test positive for Omicron

MADISON, Wis.– January is routinely one of the slowest months for restaurants, and this year, it’s one of the sickest, too. That’s put local owners in a tough situation: trying to keep their workforce well while continuing to serve customers.

“In the first 18 months, we only had three confirmed COVID cases among our employees,” said Michael Ding, owner of Tavernakaya. “In the last three weeks, we’ve already had five.”

Like many business owners, Ding requires any employees who are exposed to someone with the virus to get tested and test negative before returning to work, and that’s causing staffing complications.

Over at Palette Bar & Grill, which opened right as the pandemic began, General Manager Bobby Gunther is facing similar problems.

“In the last two weeks, we’ve had a couple staff members test positive,” Gunther told News 3 Now. “The biggest challenge, honestly, is making sure our customers have the best experience, whether they’re dining in or ordering out.”

READ MORE: 10% of Wisconsin restaurants went out of business during the pandemic, according to the WRA

Limited staffing often makes for a slower customer experience, which is why, while owners are happy for any business, they’re hoping customers will help them, too.

What you can do:

  • Dine out earlier in the week. Even during the slow months, Madison restaurants have no problem getting customers on Friday and Saturday nights. Giving them business on a Tuesday or Wednesday helps spread out crowds, and often means faster service for customers.
  • Make reservations whenever possible. This allows restaurants to plan ahead, which has become increasingly important amid ongoing staffing shortages. Resy.com is an easy tool to use online.
  • Dine in instead of carrying out. While carryout can be easier for customers, it often means a lot more work for restaurants. Packaging meals requires even more staff. Dane County restaurants are following the current mask mandate, and some are even requiring proof of vaccination, too.
  • Tip well. Remember: Slower service is often the result of being short-staffed. More often than not, it’s not the server’s fault.

“At the end of the day, we’re all doing what we have to do to make sure our restaurants keep running,” said Ding.

RELATED: Guide to Winter Restaurant Week 2022

For Ding, that means only offering a dine-in option during Winter Restaurant Week. Other restaurants like Palette are offering both.