ELLENTON, FLA.- — A Manatee County restaurant owner applauded the state's decision to lower the COVID-19 vaccine age.
John Horne, President, and Owner of the Anna Maria Oyster Bars, said lowering the vaccine age is a huge victory for the hospitality industry.
"It's going to help our industry because it’s all about customer confidence and if the customers feel that they can come in and all of our staff have been vaccinated, it’s going to make them feel better," said John Horne.
Horne said his restaurants continue to operate at 50% occupancy inside. He added more outdoor seating. Staff members disinfect high-touch surfaces like menus and door handles.
"Every menu that comes back from a table, every condiment is getting wiped down in between each person. You're building customer confidence and that's what we're all about and you can see it's working. People feel good about being out in the public." said Horne.
Horne said revenue during Spring Break exceeds restaurant sales compared to March of 2019.
"We have four locations in Bradenton. I have one out in Anna Maria Island...there is so many people out on the island and it's setting record numbers," said Horne.
Carol Dover, President, and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) said prior to the pandemic, the hospitality industry employed 1.5 million employees.
"By this time last year, we had 938,000 of our 1.5 million employees had either been furloughed or laid off so you can see it’s been a huge impact," said Carol Dover.
Florida residents age 40 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 29 and all Florida residents age 18 and older will be eligible for a vaccine beginning April 5.
Dover said the state's move to lower the vaccine age is a positive sign for the hospitality industry.
"I've been lobbying the governor and the governor's office for months now to try and get the hospitality and tourism workers pushed up to more of an essential worker list so we can get our vaccinations and I certainly respect the governor's position on that. He was determined from the beginning to do it by age and he started with the seniors," said Dover.
Dover said jobs are available in the hospitality industry. She said some laid-off employees have not returned to the industry because they choose to stay on unemployment.
"Our biggest challenge right now is that we can’t get workers and a lot of our restaurants are closing like Friday afternoon. We've had major chains, you would be shocked, have had to close because the afternoon shift didn't show up," said Dover.
"A lot of them are able to make unemployment money and stay home so we're hopeful that as we begin and continue with our marketing efforts that we can get people to understand that this unemployment check only lasts so long and eventually it is going to run out," said Dover.
Horne said his restaurants closed for about 7 weeks at the start of the pandemic. The majority of his employees returned.
"We shut the whole place down and said stay home, you're getting paid full seasonal wages. Stay safe. We're bringing everybody back that we possibly can," he said.
"It's great to be surrounded by guests again. Everybody is happy, look around. Everybody is smiling and having a margarita. It is good to have people confident. That's what we are all about is building consumer confidence."