Vermont restaurants not expected to fully recover until 2022

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 11:49 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With the end of the pandemic in sight, the road to recovery for Vermont’s tourism and hospitality industry could last much longer.

Amy Spear, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of tourism, says it could take another year before businesses and restaurants completely bounce back. “A lot of businesses are really not looking for a full recovery until 2022,” she said.

Spear says there are several factors at play. Many restaurants are contending with a lack of consumer confidence and some people are still anxious about going out in public, being around crowds, or eating inside. “There might be a tendency to want to eat outdoors still, for example. That always happens in the summer months anyways but as confidence increases, you’ll see more natural economic drivers return,” Spear said.

That’s why many restaurants are looking to stick with takeout for a while. Even those who offered takeout before the pandemic -- like Sakura’s Sushi and Kitchen in Williston -- say there’s still an adjustment curve. “We just try to maintain a good, solid takeout where you don’t have to wait too long in order to get food,” said the restaurant’s Cooper Stone. “That was always a big thing for a lot of places. They couldn’t handle all of these call-in orders and there was a big wait so we try to maintain that.”

Next door at Ramunto’s, owner Jeff Paul says they’re facing another major hurdle -- finding workers. “We’re looking for pizza cooks, prep people, delivery drivers, counter staff. That’s been a real grind through this process,” said Paul.

He thinks eligible workers not wanting to give up unemployment benefits and feeling anxious about working indoors are some of the reasons keeping people from applying for jobs. He says several other restaurants in the Williston area are also dealing with this problem. He says Ramunto’s main focus right now is providing a safe and welcoming environment for new and returning customers. “We just added outdoor seating out here for the first time in the 12 years Ramunto’s has been here, so we’re excited about that,” he said. “Making sure that people know if you come here, you’re going to get a quality product. It’s safe. It’s clean. It’s still a great family place to bring your kids.”

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is encouraging restaurants to assess how changes like curbside pickup, delivery, and takeout fit into their operations. If business owners find that these services are beneficial to their restaurant and their customer base, the chamber suggests they continue, even as they open up their dining rooms and return to normal.

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