EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WIVB)– Saying that the pandemic has hurt the restaurant industry in the past two years would be an understatement, but as a new variant surges, it’s keeping them from fully bouncing back.

“It’s still not over, we’re still living in it,” said Daniel Garvey, Inn Keeper and General Manager of the Roycroft Inn at East Aurora. “It has impacted a lot of reservations and a lot of banquets and people that are coming out.”

In Erie County alone, COVID cases went up almost 20% in the past week.

But Dr. Nancy Nielsen, Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy at The University at Buffalo says even though this new omicron variant BA-5 is the most easily transmitted variant so far, it’s not life threatening to those who are vaccinated.

“If you’re vaccinated and boosted, you could get infected with this omicron B-5,” said Nielsen. “You will not end up in the hospital, you’re not going to end up in the morgue.”

Some restaurants, like the Roycroft Inn, have continued to keep their sanitary measures strong throughout the summer.

“We’re still following immensely intense protocols to keep people safe, particularly the staff,” said Garvey.

Garvey said they continue to keep different divisions of the staff separate, and if an employee does come down with COVID, the whole department will get tested, and the employee has to test negative before returning to work.

“I think staffing is the biggest issue that we’re dealing with right now as it relates to COVID,” said Garvey. “Over the last few years, things have changed so dramatically.”

The increased COVID numbers are just one of the many obstacles restaurants around WNY are facing this summer. A major obstacle for restaurants around New York is finding the staff to get the jobs done.

“Maybe the new pandemic is the employment of people who just aren’t showing up” said Garvey, “We need a few more people. We’ve hired people whose shown up, and then not shown up. We’ve hired people who never showed up for an interview. It seems to be an epidemic.”

The New York State Restaurant Association says restaurants are seeing these problems not only statewide, but across the nation.

“With or without a COVID outbreak, staffing in the restaurant industry is still an issue. We are under our numbers for pre-pandemic employment,” said Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association. “They’ve really adjusted their operations and hours to meet the needs of a smaller staff.”

Some restaurants are changing their hours of operation, closing down on slower days, and some are closing down for lunch.

So while the cases continue to rise, and staffing continues to be a concern, restaurant owners continue to be grateful for the customers who are patient with them.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.