ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Many Central Florida restaurants are still struggling to reach their bottom lines amid the coronavirus pandemic, even with takeout orders.

What You Need To Know

  • Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ owner says fewer people are choosing to dine in

  • Boxing up orders takes more time and money, she says

Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ in Ocoee has doubled its pick-up orders, according to Jeanne Harbin, the director. But the restaurant is still missing out on beverage sales, since fewer people are choosing to dine in and cater orders.

“We’re not really going to see a shift and a change until there are more masked gatherings that can happen safely, which helps us with all of our catering, which is such a big part of our business,” Harbin said.

Increased pick-up orders have helped keep Ellie Lou’s in business. Harbin estimates the restaurant still puts out close to the same volume of food as before, catering orders notwithstanding. But boxing up those orders takes more time and money.

“You do require the same amount of staff, if not more,” Harbin said. “Even though your revenue’s not higher, (it's) just the fact that it’s more labor intensive. You have to have someone outside waiting for people to pick up orders.”

Rehiring employees following layoffs and furloughs at the height of stay-at-home orders also proved difficult for Harbin. She says some former employees chose to receive federal and state unemployment benefits instead, because it meant a higher paycheck.

Hiring had been an issue industry-wide before, according to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, but the pandemic exacerbated matters.

“Between unemployment benefits, and associates and staff members worried about their own health, it’s been a challenge to be able to staff appropriately to meet even diminished business volumes,” FRLA Senior Vice President Geoff Luebkemann said.

Harbin says she is still hiring as she looks to open up another restaurant location in Clermont, a project that had been in the works before the pandemic.

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