In May 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like it was coming to an end and there was light at the end of this dark tunnel that particularly hit restaurants hard because of the intimate nature of restaurant dining.

However, due to the delta variant, restaurant owners are bracing again for the worse, and many of them feel left in the dark. Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, discussed how restaurant owners feel frustrated and how local officials can help put them at ease.

“Restaurant owners are feeling very nervous that there’s going to be more mitigation because of the increase of the cases due to the delta variant,” said Fileccia.

Although delta variant cases continued to increase during the summer, that did not stop patrons from dining, with some restaurants accommodate indoor and outdoor dining depending on their guests’ comfort level.

At Marco Polo Ristorante & Bar in Elkins Park, manager Tom Orlik said business is steadily improving since the height of the pandemic.

“We’ve definitely gotten busier,” said Orlik, noting they are taking safety precautions and have not had any instances of anyone getting infected. “I think people feel more comfortable eating out. It’s definitely gotten better. We feel the worst is behind us.”

It is essential to highlight how restaurants have had to operate on limited revenue due to the pandemic and the mitigation efforts that were in place to stop the spread.

Many restaurants are still playing catch up.

“Thirty-five percent of the restaurants across Pennsylvania were able to receive restaurant revitalization funds,” Fileccia said, “which allows those who were able to receive that funding to cover their losses, but those almost 6000 restaurants who didn’t receive the funding are now in a worse predicament.”

Many local officials have stated the importance of the public getting vaccinated, allowing life to get back to “normal.”

“There’s easily 40 to 50 restaurants in Philadelphia that are requiring proof of vaccination to dine with them, and although they are getting some hate on social media about this, these restaurants are still busy and booked for weeks in advance,” said Fileccia.

People are generally looking for that safer option and for something that’s for the greater good.

“Now that the vaccine has been FDA approved, I can see more retail and restaurant operations requiring proof of vaccination,” he added.

Receiving help from local officials during these unknown times is critical for the livelihood of restaurant owners and their employees. The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association is advocating for them.

“The number one thing right now is the replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund,” said Fileccia, “and (when the) Pennsylvania legislature comes back in session. We’re still going to push for mixed drinks to go to make that a permanent fixture.”

Another crucial factor in preserving the livelihood of restaurant operators is ensuring access to healthcare, which the association is particularly pushing for.

“We’re also trying to get some legislation passed that will allow associations to provide group health insurance to its members,” said Fileccia.

It is another factor to drive people to come back to the industry or to join our industry is to make sure that we have benefits that are equal to other industries out there, “he added.