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Lattes disappear, drive-thru slow as Omicron hits American restaurants

NEW YORK, Jan. 10 (Reuters) – Starbucks customers arriving to claim their mobile drink orders have found cafes closed and delivery drivers are waiting longer to collect Big Mac McDonalds.

Service in American restaurants has slowed as Omicron, the latest variant of COVID-19, makes workers sick and scares others, leaving many businesses without sufficient staff.

Customers of Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) complained on Twitter last week about temporary closures and reduced hours at locations across the country including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, California, New Jersey , Florida and New York.

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Lawyer William Clarke told Reuters he placed a mobile order for coffee at a Starbucks in Hoboken, New Jersey, at 9:20 a.m. one morning. But the store hadn’t yet opened when he arrived, and he had to ask for a refund. The site has opened late and closed completely on certain days since the end of December, he said.

“I fully understand any staff shortages right now and I understand if they have to adjust the schedules because of it,” he said.

Zmer Andranigian showed up at his Starbucks in Glendale, Calif. On Jan. 1 to pick up the order he placed through the app around 5 p.m., but the store was already closed. He returned the next day and was able to have his drinks, he said.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a DoorDash Inc (DASH.N) driver said he has been waiting in lines at fast food chains for up to 30 minutes since early December. He said chains such as McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N), Taco Bell from Yum Brands Inc (YUM.N) and Chick-fil-A had started putting up signs last month warning of the times. longer wait times for customers and drivers who pick up mobile orders due to labor shortages.

Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges said some of its roughly 9,000 American cafes have adjusted their hours and operating levels throughout the pandemic.

Some locations, including the 20 in Buffalo, New York, are only carried out, he said.

McDonald’s said in a statement that it is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 variants and continues to serve its customers with about 99% of its U.S. restaurants open throughout the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Chick-fil-A said the chicken chain was having business problems because of Omicron, but 99% of their restaurants were still open. Taco Bell did not respond to requests for comment.

RESTAURANT JOB GAPS

The United States reported nearly a million new coronavirus infections on January 3, the highest daily tally of any country in the world and nearly double the previous US peak set the week before.

Even before Omicron, the restaurant industry had not recouped all the jobs it lost during the pandemic as people are also quitting at extremely high rates.

Employment in food services and drinking places in December was also nearly 653,000 jobs – or about 5.3% – below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, according to federal data on the work published Friday.

Other factors add to the complications, including bad weather in many parts of the country, employees staying home because of fear of catching COVID and the holiday season when some workers wanted to be with family.

In New York, independent restaurants have been forced to limit their services.

Manhattan’s pizzeria, John’s on Bleecker St., lacked six employees last week. The shortage is slowing operations and creating longer lines, manager Kevin Jackson said.

“We’re probably losing customers because of this,” said Jackson, who had to deliver 10 pizzas himself on New Years weekend because couriers from the delivery apps didn’t show up.

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Reporting by Hilary Russ and Danielle Kaye in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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